The Minnesota Golden Gophers hockey team defeated Notre Dame Fighting Irish 3-2 on Sunday night to win the best-of-three Big Ten playoff series 2-1. The Gophers advance to the Big Ten Semifinal to play Penn State Nittany Lions next Saturday in Pennsylvania, while the Irish’s season is over.
The Gophers has to overcome a loss to the Irish in game one on Friday night by winning two straight to advance. Notre Dame won Friday by a 1-0 score where the Gophers looked completely befuddled by the Notre Dame defense. Minnesota only recorded 12 shots on goal the entire game earning Irish goalie Cale Morris one of the easiest shutouts he has ever recorded.
The Gophers jumped right out of the box on Saturday making sure that the same fate would not befell them. Senior defenseman Ryan Zuhlsdorf scored his first goal of the season—and first ever goal at Mariucci on the Gophers first shot of the game to put Minnesota ahead 1-0. The Gophers would go up 2-0 when Cullen Munson added his second career goal early in the third period. Notre Dame cut the lead to 2-1 on a power play goal midway through the third period, but the Gopher defense anchored by goalie Jack LaFontaine and his 30 saves held and The Gophers evened the series with a 2-1 win.
That set up Sunday night’s winner take all game. The winner would advance and keep playing while the loser’s season was done. The Gophers came out hard of the gates and played their best first period of the weekend but could not gain anything from it as both teams remained scoreless after a period.
The Gophers struggled early in the second period and after a bad turnover in neutral ice the Irish struck first on a 2-0 break when Alex Steeves beat LaFontaine to make it one 1-0 five minutes into the period. The Gophers would go on a power play with ten minutes left in the period after a Notre Dame tripping call and would finally take advantage. Ben Meyers scored off of a rebound in front of the net to tie the game at one. Minnesota grew their momentum 44 second later when Sampo Ranta took a pass from Scott Reedy just across the blue line and ripped a wrist shot over Morris’s shoulder to give the Gophers a 2-1 lead.
Minnesota seemed to put their foot down on the gas after the Irish were called for two penalties late in the second period. After two missed calls Notre Dame was called for hooking and upon review the referees correctly called Notre dame for a checking from behind major penalty at the same time. Minnesota had a full two minute 5x3 power play and it took almost all of it before Meyers scored his second goal of the game with just seven seconds left in the 5x3 to put the Gophers up 3-1. The Irish would kill off the rest of the major and the teams headed to the second intermission.
Minnesota knew both Notre Dame would mount a charge and the referees were due to call some Gopher penalties in the third period. Jonny Sorenson was called for boarding with just over ten minutes left in the third period and the Irish struck on the power play to cut the lead to 3-2. Minnesota also would take a too many men on the ice minor with 6;33 left in the game, but the Gophers would kill off that penalty. Notre Dame pulled Morris with just over 1:20 left in the game and applied pressure, but the Gopher defense held and Minnesota escaped with the game and series win.
The Gophers checked off a box in their 2020 revenge tour.
Ohio State Notre Dame had directly or indirectly ended the Gophers season the last three years.
-5:09 pm CT March 25, 2017: Notre Dame upset #Gophers in NCAA Tournament 1st round.— Nate Wells (@gopherstate) March 17, 2019
-9:52 pm CT March 17, 2018: Cam Morrison's OT goal completes Minnesota's miracle NCAA Tournament miss
-8:38 pm CT March 17, 2019: ND's Michael Graham scores in OT.
Three. Years. In. A Row.
But this time the Gophers got the last laugh and ended the Irish’s season. Minnesota now moves onto the next team on the revenge list in Penn State who more directly ended the Gophers season in 2018 by winning four games in a row on their home ice to eliminate the Gophers conference home ice chances first, and then eliminate them from the Big Ten Tournament. The Gophers then missed out on the NCAA tournament despite having a 63/64 chance on Championship Saturday to get in. That final nail was cast when the Irish defeated Ohio State in the Big Ten championship game earning the at large berth that eliminated the Gophers. So yeah, Minnesota would love nothing more than the keep their season alive one more weekend and take out the Nittany Lions on Saturday.
That game will take place at 6PM Saturday night at Pegula Ice Arena and will air live on BTN. The winner of that game will advance to play the winner of Michigan and Ohio State who will play Sunday night in Columbus in the other Big Ten semifinal.
We will have a full preview of Saturday’s game later this week on TDG.