Friday, February 20, 2015

Gophers Wear Down Nittany Lions, Win 2-1 in Happy Valley

Isackson, Kloos, Wilcox lead Minnesota over Penn State on the road

Happy Valley, PA - For the first time in a long time this season, Minnesota is back on top.

The Gophers (17-9-3 Overall, 8-2-3 B1G) continued their hot streak, winning their fifth game in a row (unbeaten in their last seven) to rise to the top of the B1G conference standings. The 2-1 victory over the Penn State Nittany Lions (15-10-4, 7-5-1) was just Minnesota's fourth road win of the season - the Gophers are now 4-5-2 outside the Twin Cities, and 4-7-2 away from Mariucci Arena on the year.

The game started at high intensity, with Penn State zooming around the ice and delivering punishing hits to the Gophers early, taking Minnesota off of its finesse game. The Nittany Lions took an early lead as David Goodwin sniped the near-side corner from the face-off dot at 12:47 of the first period.

Minnesota held off Penn State for the rest of the period, and came out energized in the second. The Gophers got an early tying goal from the fourth line at 2:19 of the middle frame. Jack Glover, a defenseman playing up at forward on the team's checking line, made a nifty move at the defensive blueline to spring a rush up the far side of the ice. Jake Bischoff put a puck into the low slot and Christian Isackson hustled to the front of the net to beat his defender and tip the puck past PSU's netminder P.J. Musico to knot the game at 1-1.

Coach Don Lucia praised the fourth line and Isackson especially after the game. "The play of [Isackson's] line was big," said the Gopher bench boss. "They struggled a bit last weekend but they were good for us tonight."

Minnesota's possession game netted them a powerplay soon after that, and Justin Kloos scored a pretty goal on a great individual effort at 4:57 of the second. Kloos faked the Penn State defenseman a step too close to the wall, before using his trademark speed to cut to the middle of the rink and fire a perfectly placed shot from between the circles that dented the twine.

After that, the Gophers locked down the defensive zone and controlled the play. The Nittany Lions just couldn't touch the boys in Maroon and Gold, try as they might.

Penn State had several quality chances in the third period, including a powerplay on a Kyle Rau tripping minor at 4:05 of the third, but Minnesota's defense held strong. "We got stronger as the game went on," said Lucia. "We didn't give them many second looks tonight."

The first looks were all covered by Adam Wilcox in net. The junior was solid between the pipes, making the key saves as the game wound down. He made a spectacular windmill blocker save with under five minutes to go to keep the Gophers ahead.

Penn State pulled their goalie with just under two minutes remaining, but the Minnesota defense held strong and was able to keep PSU off the scoresheet to preserve the victory. Lucia specifically singled out Travis Boyd in his post-game interview - Boyd was able to tie the puck up in the Penn State defensive zone for quite a while in the final minute of the game, going up against three or four Nittany Lion players but mucking the puck up in the corner and siphoning valuable time off the clock. "Travis's line did a great job in the last minute, eating up about 20 seconds and never really giving them a chance."

Coupled with Michigan's loss at Ohio State tonight, the win puts Minnesota all alone at the top of the B1G standings. While it may have taken longer than anyone would have expected for them to get there, the Gophers are now three points clear of Michigan in the B1G table. Tomorrow night's game is a big one, as another win would help Minnesota keep pace atop the conference. Coach Lucia said after the game that he knows how tough the Saturday series finale will be: "They have not lost twice at home all year, so it'll be a heck of a challenge."

More importantly, the win continues to vault Minnesota up the Pairwise Rankings, the system that mimics the NCAA Committee's method of determining which teams make the NCAA Tournament field. A month or two ago many had left the Gophers for dead, but strong play and a seven-game unbeaten streak later the Gophers are inside the cut-line for the tournament (in 12th as of this writing) and looking to continue to improve their position.

Minnesota finishes off the series tomorrow afternoon against Penn State. The puck drops at 4:00 PM central time, with coverage on ESPNU and the WatchESPN app / streaming service. As always, the game will be on the radio at 1500ESPN.


Three Stars of the Game (as announced in the arena): 3) Christian Isackson, 2) David Goodwin, 1) Justin Kloos

No Gophers had multiple point nights.

Final shots on goal: Minnesota 35, Penn State 36

The win was Don Lucia's 389th as head coach of the Gophers. He now just two wins shy of eclipsing Doug Woog's all-time wins record as head coach of the University of Minnesota. Woog currently sits at 390 all-time wins.

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