All the Minnesota Golden Gophers hockey team needed to do was get one point out of six when they ended the regular season at the Penn State Nittany Lions last weekend to host the first round of the Big Ten Tournament at Mariucci Arena. One shootout loss, that’s it. But, as we all know by now, the Gophers were outplayed, outclassed, and frankly thoroughly dominated by the Nittany Lions last week and were swept. Thus, the Gophers have made the return trip to State College, Pennsylvania for the best of three first round series of the Big Ten tournament, where the Gophers will either get sent home packing with their tails behind their legs again, or find some form of redemption in advancing to next weekend’s Big Ten semifinal.
It was a horrible weekend for Minnesota. The Gophers were outshot 61- 15 in losing 5-1 on Friday, and while the shots went 41-40 in the Gophers favor on Saturday, Penn State would win the game 5-2 to clinch a return engagement this weekend. The Gophers looked flat footed immediately out of the gate on Friday and Saturday and fell behind quickly in both games. Where Minnesota kept the game close on Friday before the Nittany Lions blew it open with a three goal third period, it was the opposite on Saturday when PSU went up 3-0 before Minnesota got on the board. In either fashion, the Gophers did not look like the better team and will need to find something, probably many things to improve upon before this weekend’s series.
The Gophers will need to figure out some way to stop Penn State sophomore Denis Smirnov this weekend. He has registered at least one point in six of his last seven games against the Gophers and has five goals and six assists for 11 career points in nine games against Minnesota. he has scored a goal in three of the four games they teams have played this season. The Gophers will also need to figure out how to stop freshman Alex Limoges. He has seven goals on the year, but has scored four goals in his last three games including three against the Gophers last weekend.
For Minnesota, the most interesting factor might be to see of Ryan Lindgren can motivate the rest of his team to show up. He was irate Friday night after getting into it with Penn State’s Evan Barratt, who he apparently has bad blood with going back to their days with the US National Development Team. After the two got into a spat last weekend, this occurred.
Here it is folks: Evan Barratt making the crybaby face at Ryan Lindgren during last night's game. pic.twitter.com/tUqrhcmxCI— Patrick Burns (@PatrickBurns_) February 25, 2018
Barratt got into Lindgren’s head, and then knocked him out of it with a huge check five seconds after they both got out of the box—and then came down and scored a goal about thirty seconds later. Ouch.
You can bet Lindgren has been stewing about this all week long and wants revenge. But can he do it in a way that doesn’t hurt the rest of his team, or convince his team to do the dirty work for him by actually showing up on the ice? Only time will tell.
Minnesota will NEED to get better goaltending from Mat Robson this weekend. He gave up four goals on Friday before being pulled for Eric Schierhorn and then gave up another five on Friday. That’s not going to win any series for anyone. It was obvious Schierhorn was fighting the puck all weekend long. The question is was he having a hard time seeing it, or did he just have a garbage weekend. Once can be fixed, but if one is an arena issue—Minnesota might be in trouble.
Both teams will look to set the tone of the weekend early on Friday. Minnesota needs to come out and play well in the first period Friday. Maybe even take an early lead. Because if Penn State is killing them again in shots early and goes up early too...its going to get in people’s heads. Setting a tone will go a huge way as to just how this Minnesota team is viewed both in this series, and in the rest of the season. While Minnesota still has a 99% chance to make the NCAA Tournament no matter what happens this weekend, its a matter of going in with some frame of confidence, or backing in and trying not to make an immediate exit. Meanwhile, the Nittany Lions are still playing for their NCAA Tournament lives this weekend. Sweep the Gophers, and they are probably in. Win one, and they are right on the bubble. Get swept, and Penn State probably is done. The Gophers don’t often fair well against desperate teams with things to play for. See last weekend. So someone...anyone better get into these guys heads that they need to show up. Because another weekend like last weekend, and it will not be a pretty two weeks of sitting around before the NCAA Tournament selections are made.
The good news—thanks to a huge effort from the U of M, we actually can watch this weekend’s games on TV. if you followed along to the saga on twitter originally the games were only to air on BTN+ for a fee. However, the U worked out a deal so that all three games will actually be broadcast with a real crew (BTN’s Dan Kelly and Fred Pletsch) and will air on either FSN or FSN +. The Gopher/Nittany Lion series is the ONLY series of the three first round series to actually be aired on tv this weekend. So be thankful for that.
HOW TO WATCH:
Big Ten Tournament—First Round Best of 3
#5 Minnesota Golden Gophers @ #4 Penn State Nittany Lions
Where: Pegula Arena, State College, Pennsylvania
When: 6:00 PM Friday, Saturday, Sunday (If necessary)
TV: Friday—Fox Sports North +; Saturday/Sunday (Fox Sports North)
Radio: 1130 AM, 103.5 FM, IHeart Radio App