MINNEAPOLIS — A day after Minnesota and Michigan State tied, the two teams came out Saturday with another close, hard-fought effort. Top-ranked Minnesota won 1-0, despite a strong performance from Michigan State goaltender Jake Hildebrand.
Hildebrand did everything he could to keep his game in it, stopping 37 of the 38 shots he faced on the night, but the Spartans were unable to score on a Minnesota defense that looked improved from the night before.
“They were blocking shots, they were backchecking hard, they were defending hard, so space was hard to come by,” Michigan State head coach Tom Anastos said.
Minnesota’s defense allowed just 19 shots on goal on the night.
“[Sophomore goaltender Adam Wilcox] didn’t have to make a lot of saves,” Minnesota coach Don Lucia said. “It was something we had talked about. We’ve given up a lot of shots recently. We had to play better defensively and take away more time and space.”
Minnesota’s defense did just that Saturday, and Wilcox did his job, stopping all 19 shots that came his way.
“Toward the end of the season … that’s how all of the games are going to be,” Wilcox said. “They’re going to be low scoring. Defenses are going to tighten up; that’s going to kind of be everyone’s game plan.”
The Gophers came out strong and dominated first-period play, giving up just four shots on goal and taking 16.
“We anticipated that; we thought we were going to have to weather the storm,” Anastos said.
For the most part, his team did.
Minnesota had a near-goal just 2:29 into the game. The shot by sophomore forward Ryan Reilly was originally ruled a goal, but the referees would eventually overturn it.
Despite a multitude of scoring chances in the first, the Gophers scored just once. Junior forward Kyle Rau’s seventh goal of the season would be the game-winner in a game dominated by the goaltenders.
With the Gophers’ chances, Rau said he didn’t think his goal would stand as the game’s lone score.
“I thought we’d get more, but they’ve got a great goalie; we knew it was going to be a close game,” Rau said.
Michigan State’s offense was unable to crack Wilcox Saturday.
Anastos said his team came out of the first period thinking they were just a shot away, but the Spartans’ offense, which ranks near the bottom of the conference standings, was unable to capitalize.
“We’ve got to figure out how to finish off more of these opportunities, both on special teams and five-on-five situations,” Anastos said.
For Minnesota, Lucia tinkered with his lineup between games, and though Hildebrand stopped almost all of the Gophers’ offensive chances, they scored when they needed to.
“Even though we only scored one [goal], we had a lot of good quality chances tonight, so a much better game and effort from us,” Lucia said.
Even though the offense wasn’t abundant, it was enough.
“Whatever it takes, we’ve got to find a way to win,” Lucia said. “It’s all about how well you play without the puck and defensively, and we did a much better job of that tonight.”
With the win, Minnesota will take home the Mariucci-Bessone Trophy after going 2-0-2 against Michigan State in regular season play.