MINNEAPOLIS — For the second time in as many games, Kelly Pannek scored the winning goal, aiding Minnesota to a 5-2 victory over Ohio State in the opening game of their WCHA quarterfinal series.
“Had to work for everything that we got here tonight,” Minnesota coach Brad Frost said. “Credit Ohio State. They capitalized on their opportunities. They had a lot of good pressure on the puck and caused some turnovers by us that ended up in our net.”
The previous two times, the leads for the Gophers (30-3-1, 24-3-1-0 WCHA) didn’t last, but after Pannek connected with a snipe from the slot at 3:29 of the third period, Minnesota was able to pull away.
“I thought it was a great, fast-paced game,” OSU coach Jenny Potter said. “I was very proud of our team competing until the very last minute.”
Kate Schipper turned the corner on the Ohio State (10-24-1, 6-21-1-1 WCHA) defense, cut across the net front, and slid in a backhander to make it 4-2.
“I think the backbreaker was Schipper scoring that goal, but I thought our goalie played fantastic,” Potter said. “She made a lot of great saves.”
Alex LaMere finished with 39 stops. When she left for an extra attacker, Amanda Kessel’s second goal of the night completed the scoring into an empty net in the final seconds.
After a scoreless first period, Dani Cameranesi picked the top corner on a rush for an unassisted goal to open the scoring, and Maddy Field countered with a solo marker for the Buckeyes 2:32 later.
With the teams skating four on four, Kessel circled the net and flipped a puck past LaMere.
“They in their D zone played man on man,” Kessel said. “They’ll hang all over you, so you just got to be patient, and when things are open, that’s when you got to take it. Can’t force things.”
Ohio State went into the second intermission down by one, but tied the game 2:23 into the final period when Claudia Kepler capitalized on another transition opportunity.
“If you play smart defense, those opportunities will come,” Potter said. “[Our team] played solid defensively and created some opportunities to take some odd-man rushes.”
Most of the Ohio State chances came when they forced turnovers.
“That was definitely our weakness tonight,” Kessel said. “Right over their blue line, we were trying to make plays and they were stepping up on them. If we can just get it deep and cycle more, I think we’ll be alright.”
Amanda Leveille made 21 saves to earn the win, and Hannah Brandt had three assists, as the Gophers reached 30 wins for the fifth straight season.
“Happy with how we responded there in the third once they tied it up, answering right back and then building that two-goal lead before getting the empty-netter,” Frost said.
Game 2 is Saturday at 4:07 p.m. CST inside Ridder Arena.