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Gopher Hockey Takes Four Points at OSU

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The champagne showers will have to wait.

The Gophers won five of six periods against the Buckeyes (including periods where neither team scored but Minnesota was leading at the time), but one bad period was enough to keep the championship celebration on ice. While the lack of a trophy on the shelf is disappointing, a four-point road weekend is still pretty respectable.

The Gophers win on Friday eliminated Michigan from the race for the conference championship, thereby guaranteeing Minnesota a first round bye in the conference tournament.  Michigan cannot pass Wisconsin in the last weekend, so Wisconsin also has a guaranteed first round bye.  Minnesota is now one point away from a share of the conference title, and two points away from winning the championship outright.

Adam Wilcox allowed three goals in the two games, and saved 71 of the 74 shots he faced. On Saturday night, he made a few unbelievable stops that saved the game. He also set a new personal best for saves in a single game with 41 on Saturday.

He’s been so good that the talking heads are now wondering out loud if he’ll play professionally next year. That’s probably still a bit of stretch as the Tampa Bay Lightning is not really in need of a goaltender in the immediate future, but Wilcox’s performance this year is definitely reducing the probability of his college career spanning four years.

Minnesota’s defense was up to the challenge of containing Ryan Dzingel and the rest of Buckeyes. The team’s goals-against-average is now down to 1.88. In the conference, the Minnesota GAA is 1.61. Wisconsin’s GAA is second in the conference at 2.11, a full half-goal behind Minnesota’s pace. Going into the last weekend of the regular season, the way the Gophers play defense has become their greatest asset.

The defense was victimized for two goals in the third period Saturday night due to an anemic offense. Somehow, Minnesota only put three shots on goal in the period. The strategy is best described as the "Vikings prevent defense." The strategy did not pan out. The Buckeyes assaulted Wilcox with 15 shots in the period and scored two goals.

When Minnesota was pressing on offense, they were the better team. OSU’s defense is not nearly as efficient as the Gophers’. During stretches, the Minnesota forecheck looked unstoppable; the Ohio State breakout had no answer for the pressure and spent several long shifts trapped in their own zone, holding on for dear life. Had Minnesota mustered a similar effort in that third period, they would likely have earned their championship.

It’s important to note that the Gophers played without the service of their leading scorer (into the weekend), Sam Warning, on Saturday. His presence could have provided a lift to the struggling offense. As it is, he was scratched from the lineup with an upper body injury. That injury is a situation which will need to be closely monitored, as Minnesota can ill afford to lose him for the playoffs.

That ability to create offense was on display Friday night, when Minnesota scored five goals in the first 34 minutes of play. The difference between the Friday win and the Saturday tie was simple, the prevent defense. Friday night, with a four goal lead, Minnesota continued to put shots on net. On Saturday, with virtually no time spent in the offensive zone (and excluding a fluky goal off the skate of a defender), the Buckeyes spent the vast majority of the third period putting shots on net.

That’s probably the biggest take on the weekend? The Minnesota defense is excellent. When the offense is providing any sort of threat whatsoever, the defense is almost invincible.