COLUMBUS, Ohio — No. 1 Minnesota extended its win streak to five and clinched a top-two spot in the Big Ten standings with a decisive 5-1 victory at Ohio State Friday night.
The Maroon and Gold played a dominant game, characterized by quick hustle, hard shots, solid special teams, capitalizing on rebounds and a balanced scoring effort.
Kyle Rau, Taylor Cammarata and Connor Reilly each had a goal and an assist on the night and Columbus Blue Jackets’ draft pick Mike Reilly had three helpers.
The contest got off to a fast and furious start, with each squad putting its opponent’s goaltender to the test.
Minnesota (24-4-5 overall, 13-2-2-0 Big Ten) was quick to light the lamp, as freshman Justin Kloos chipped in a rebound just 2:03 into the opening frame to give the Gophers a 1-0 advantage.
Then with Tyler Lundey in the box for interference, Rau pushed Minnesota’s lead to two when he beat Christian Frey glove-side from close range on the man-advantage at 16:05.
Though the Buckeyes (15-12-4 overall, 5-8-4-3 Big Ten) pressured Gophers’ goalie Adam Wilcox and held a shot edge of 13-9 at the first intermission buzzer, they couldn’t find the back of the net.
For the second game in a row, the Ohio State found itself trailing 2-0 after the first frame.
“It was a little frustrating there because we did have some good shifts and we were playing pretty good hockey there, but when you make mistakes against these guys, they’ll make you pay,” Ohio State coach Steve Rohlik said. “I mean, that’s why they’re No. 1 in the country for 90 percent of the season. So, we felt we’d played a good first period, but at the end of the day when you look and you’re down two-zip, it’s a little frustrating. Again, chasing a puck on a back check and you leave a guy go free and then they get the power-play goal, so a couple of mistakes against good teams will cost you.”
Minnesota opened scoring in the second stanza with another power play goal, as Cammarata fired a high shot in from the right circle to make it 3-0 at 10:14.
Just 36 seconds later, Tanner Fritz got the Buckeyes on the board, putting away a Max McCormick rebound on the breakaway at 10:50.
Shortly thereafter, however, the Gophers effectively snuffed what momentum Ohio State had gathered from Fritz’s tally, following it up with two of their own spaced just 21 seconds apart.
First, Connor Reilly tipped in a Justin Holl blast from the point at 13:01. The goal chased Frey from net, but Vinni Lettieri sent one past Matt Thomkins’ glove side off of the first play after he came on in relief.
“Obviously when we gave up the 3-1, they scored that goal, we took away the momentum they might’ve had by scoring two quick goals like that,” Minnesota coach Don Lucia said. “Good contributions throughout our lineup, all four lines contributing from an offensive standpoint. I thought our ‘D’ did a good job. Specialty teams were good – they lead the league in their power play.”
The board read 5-1 in favor of the Gophers after 40 minutes and that score stood at the final buzzer as neither team found the net in the final frame.
“You never want to get behind, especially this time of year against good teams because good teams know how to play with the lead and it forces you to try to do things maybe you shouldn’t be doing and you saw that a little bit tonight,” Rohlik said. “I just saw guys – eventually all of the sudden you start to try to do too much instead of sticking with it and doing the chips and using teammates and doing it together…Sometimes when you do more, you start hurting the team when you try to do more yourself. I think we did a little bit of that tonight and I think it showed.”