MINNEAPOLIS — The Minnesota Gophers won for the first time this season after trailing at the first intermission as they struck with three third-period goals over a 2 minute, 40 second span to defeat the Ohio State Buckeyes 4-2.
Minnesota (17-6-1 overall, 12-6-1-1 in the WCHA) had been 0-4 when outscored in the opening 20 minutes before Friday’s victory.
“A lot of our talk in the locker room was about how if we want to be a championship team, we can’t give up, we’ve got to learn how to win from behind,” said Amanda Kessel, whose goal and two assists led the comeback effort.
The Gophers head-to-head winning streak over the Buckeyes (12-11-2, 6-11-2-2) grew to 14 games.
“We played well, and I thought we matched Minnesota line-to-line,” Ohio State head coach Jackie Barto said. “They were able to capitalize on a couple of our mistakes and that’s what the game is about.”
With Minnesota down by a goal and the third period over half gone, Sarah Erickson beat goalie Lisa Steffes with a shot over her left pad off of a setup by Kessel.
“Earlier in the game, I found her open and she missed the net,” Kessel said. “She had a lot of chances that game, and I saw her open and figured she’d bury one.”
Erickson’s goal, her team-leading 12th on the year, marked the third straight game in which she has found the net, and her eighth game in a row where she has collected at least one point.
The Gophers took their first lead of the night and added some insurance when a pair of defensemen lit the lamp. Megan Bozek made it 3-2 for the road team with an assist by Bethany Brausen.
“I skated it down the right side and I did a spin out on the boards and waited for the forwards to get in the zone,” Bozek said. “I tried to make a move around one of the girls and put a pretty flimsy shot on net and it went in. I think we had hard shots all game that weren’t going in, so those are the kind of goals that would go in a game like this.”
Anne Schleper completed the scoring for the night when she connected only 20 seconds later, combining with Kessel and Erickson. Both Schleper and Erickson finished with a goal and an assist in the game.
“A lot like when we played them and beat them in overtime earlier in the year, Steffes was tremendous throughout the first couple periods, and we just had to stay resilient and keep getting the puck to the net,” Minnesota head coach Brad Frost said. “Fortunately, we had some pretty creative plays, some nice plays, and the puck went in.”
Minnesota swept the Buckeyes and held them to a single goal in December in Minneapolis, in large part because they were able to shut down OSU star Natalie Spooner. This time, Spooner’s line was able to get on the scoreboard just 21 seconds into the action as they broke into the zone and Melissa Feste banged the puck home with Ally Tarr and Spooner assisting.
“They came out faster than us the first shift,” Bozek said. “They have great speed entering the zone, and they know what to do behind the net, and they always look for that person in front so you can’t always catch them.”
Amanda Kessel got the Gophers even from the early deficit, picking the upper left corner of the cage off a centering pass from Jen Schoullis while the teams were skating 4-on-4 late in the second frame.
Tarr gave the Buckeyes a 2-1 advantage when she tallied with assistance from Spooner 5:18 into the third. The scarlet and gray appeared on their way to halting their skid versus Minnesota until the sudden Gopher blitz five minutes later.
“Both of their goals were scored by [Spooner's] line where she was just creating things on the rush and we didn’t pick up sticks in front, and they just tapped in their two goals,” Frost said. “One thing that we’ve been doing a really good job of is our back checking and picking people up through the middle of the ice. We probably were a little deficient in that area tonight.”
Noora Räty turned away 33 shots in improving her record to 16-4-1, while Steffes finished with 39 saves in defeat.
The teams complete their season series on Saturday at 4:07 p.m. in Columbus.
“It all comes back to the little things and minimizing turnovers,” Barto said. “We played well and were so close; we’ll come back tomorrow.”