The Big Ten regular season championship will come down to the final day of league play.
No. 3 Minnesota, needing a minimum of a tie and win this weekend against Michigan to clinch the Big Ten title, never led again against No. 7 Michigan, falling 5-2.
The Gophers will now need Wisconsin, a 4-0 winner on Friday over Michigan State, to falter in Saturday’s rematch with the Spartans if Minnesota is to have any chance to win the Big Ten title and earn a bye in the conference tournament. Should the Badgers win, they’d claim their first Big Ten regular season title.
The victory was a very complete effort for Michigan, which was swept earlier this season by the Gophers by a combined score of 7-1.
If there was a hero on Friday, coach Mel Pearson points to his goaltender, Strauss Mann, who finished the game with 28 saves, including stopping all 16 shots he faced in the first period when Minnesota’s offense was buzzing.
“The first star in tonight’s game was Strauss Mann,” said Pearson. “Maybe the first, second and third star. He was outstanding.
“We needed him especially early and he continued to have a strong game.”
Also on Friday, the Michigan offense was strong, jumping to a 3-1 lead through two periods before Minnesota climbed within a goal on Sampo Ranta’s tally with exactly 8:00 remaining.
The Wolverines had an answer, though, exactly three minutes later when Nick Granowicz buried an insurance marker top shelf.
Matty Beniers hits the pipe, Nick Granowicz gets the rebound and buries it pic.twitter.com/Qs6PXbZAha
— Michigan Hockey (@umichhockey) March 6, 2021
Matty Beniers added an empty-net goal with 1:22 left.
The win improves Michigan to 14-8-1 overall. Coming against a team like Minnesota that has not been ranked lower than fifth since November, it certainly helps build Michigan’s NCAA tournament resume should the Wolverines need to earn an at-large bid.
To Pearson, though, he believes that bid is secure.
“I think we’re in the tournament,” Pearson said. “The Big Ten is tough every night. Arizona State came in ranked the 15th best team in the country. The start of the year they returned the most scoring out of any NCAA team and they found out how tough the Big Ten is and they’re a heck of a hockey team.
“This is a big win against Minnesota. We beat Wisconsin three times and they’re as good as anybody in the country. So I think our resume speaks for itself. We don’t need anymore statement wins. We’ve had enough.”
Connecticut 5, No. 15 Providence 3
Fueled by a hat trick and four-point game by Jachym Kondelik, Connecticut jumped to a 5-0 lead and survived a wild comeback attempt by No. 15 Providence, as the Huskies earned a 5-3 victory.
The win gives UConn home ice in the Hockey East quarterfinals, where they will face Providence yet again.
The Huskies dominated early, taking a 4-0 lead in the first period, three goals coming on the power play.
🚨 UConn PP GOAL!!!
🎩 🎩 🎩
— UConn Men's Hockey (@UConnMHOC) March 5, 2021
After Jonny Evans extended the lead to 5-0 in the second, Providence mounted a charge in the third on goals by Tyce Thompson, Parker Ford and John McDermott.
Both teams finished the game with 45 shots on goal but the Friars’ 23 shots in the final period put Huskies goaltender Tomas Vomacka on the hot seat where, ultimately, he delivered.
No. 12 Omaha 3, No. 1 North Dakota 2 (OT)
Taylor Ward’s goal 1:17 into overtime gave Omaha a 3-2 victory in a game that could go a long way to helping the Mavericks in their hopes for an NCAA tournament bid.
🚨 WINNER WINNER! 🚨
DOWN GOES #1‼️
— Omaha Hockey (@OmahaHKY) March 6, 2021
Omaha never trailed, jumping to a 2-0 lead on goal 14 seconds apart by Kevin Conley and Chayse Primeau in the middle frame.
North Dakota closed the gap to a goal when Jackson Keane scored with 5:59 left in the second and Jordan Kawaguchi tied the game just 15 seconds into the third.
Omaha, which closed its regular season playing North Dakota in six of its last 10 games, earned two wins over that sextet of games. Those two victories combined with an early-season win against St. Cloud State may qualify as the resume-building victories for the Mavericks but could be enough to help earn an at-large bid should Omaha not win the NCHC tournament.