ST. PAUL, Minn. — Big Ten, meet parity. Parity, this is the Big Ten.
Top-seeded and No. 1 Minnesota fell victim to fourth-seeded Ohio State in the Big Ten Tournament semifinals Friday, as the Buckeyes won a 3-1 game at the Xcel Energy Center to advance to the championship against Wisconsin.
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“Disappointing from our standpoint,” Golden Gophers coach Don Lucia said. “Something we talked about is trying to get playing on Saturday night and playing for a championship. But you’re not going to win very often scoring one goal. That part that’s most disappointing to me is we had some opportunities, we hit a couple pipes, but they didn’t go in tonight, and that’s all part of it.”
Ryan Dzingel scored the game-winner 9 minutes, 8 seconds into the third on a long shot through traffic, and Anthony Greco added an empty-net goal with 27 seconds left to seal the win for the Buckeyes.
Like the three Big Ten tournament games prior, the Ohio State-Minnesota matchup was a closely contested game the whole way through. The previous three tournament games all had 2-1 finals, and without the empty-net tally, this one was much the same.
Ohio State took a one-goal lead into the first intermission, on a power-play tally from Nick Schilkey. The Buckeyes almost had a second, as a hard puck off the back wall crept behind Gophers goaltender Adam Wilcox and danced along the goal line as time expired in the period. Max McCormick got a stick on the puck about a second too late, and the play was reviewed and ruled no goal.
Still, Ohio State became the latest low seed not to be intimidated in a Big Ten tournament game this weekend.
“We weren’t gonna get caught with three guys deep, we weren’t gonna get caught with our D running down the walls,” Buckeyes coach Steve Rohlik said. “We were just gonna play our system, play smart, and not give up the uneven numbers.”
Minnesota evened the game at 1-1 with its own power-play goal, as Kyle Rau redirected a pass from Taylor Cammarata on the back door for an easy score.
Minnesota went on to turn up the pressure in the third, but Ohio State goaltender Christian Frey and a shot-blocking, lane-clogging Buckeyes defense left the Gophers frustrated.
Frey made 30 saves, and Ohio State was credited with 21 blocked shots.
Minnesota had a potential scoring play of its own reviewed in the third, as a puck squeaked past Frey as he was trying to cover it up during a scrum in the crease, but it was ruled no goal.
After the review, Ohio State was able to keep the puck away from Minnesota, and got an easy empty-net goal once Wilcox was able to make it to the bench for an extra skater.
The Gophers moved the puck well, but at times looked like they were waiting too long for too perfect a shot.
“You have to deliver pucks to the net when you have opportunities, because you don’t get a lot this time of year,” Lucia said. “When you get a chance to deliver it, you’ve got to deliver pucks to the net.”
“I think we got better as the game went on, maybe a little bit of lag, little bit of tiredness in our legs,” Gophers forward Travis Boyd said. “Coming down the stretch, we thought we had a pretty good chance to tie it up there. Like it was said, we just couldn’t find the back of the net tonight.”
Minnesota outshot Ohio State 31-25 and 9-6 in the final period.
For the third straight year, Minnesota won its regular season conference title, then got bounced in the semifinals of the conference tournament.
Lucia said the importance of taking advantage of limited scoring opportunities would need to be emphasized going forward. The Gophers wait to find where and who they will play in the NCAA tournament on Sunday’s selection show.
“Like I told the guys after the game, this is our last opportunity as a learning experience, and you don’t get any more after that,” Lucia said.
Ohio State gets second-seeded Wisconsin, 2-1 winners over Penn State in the early semifinal, at 7 p.m. CDT Saturday.
“We gotta expect to win, I think that’s the thing we told our team,” Rohlik, a former Wisconsin player, said. “You’ve gotta expect to win every game at this time of year, no matter who you play. We just beat the best team in the country tonight. It’s a good feeling, but we’re not done yet.”