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Page through a thesaurus and a number of words can be picked out to describe the mood of teams trying to deal with Minnesota’s offense.
From pressure to frustration, and even some anxiety, sophomore wing Tyler Sheehy had another adjective to describe what Minnesota’s offense exudes when it has synergy running throughout: toughness.
“I am sure the other teams got to put it in perspective that when we have four lines playing, we’re going to be playing really fast and getting a lot of shots of goals,” Sheehy said. “Their defensemen are going to have to play pretty hard on us if they want to shut us down.”
No. 7 Minnesota got its offense started early with aggression and finished things off the same way, as center Justin Kloos’ rush up the right side yielded the winner 1:43 into overtime for a 4-3 victory over Wisconsin at the Kohl Center on Friday.
Leon Bristedt, Mike Szmatula and Sheehy added regulation goals within 10 feet of the net for Minnesota (14-5-2, 6-1-0-0 Big Ten), which moved into sole possession of first place in the Big Ten in winning its seventh straight game.
One could say the Gophers have shot their way to the top as team’s approach the midway point of conference play. Outshooting Wisconsin (10-8-1, 3-2-0-0) 40-32, the Gophers improved to 13-2-2 when firing more shots on net that their opponents, not to mention having outshot their last 11 opponents dating back to Nov. 19.
“It’s never just the defense or it’s never just the forwards; you’ve got to play as a group of five,” Minnesota coach Don Lucia said. “We’ve been generating shots. One area we’ve done a better job is getting some more pucks through from our defensemen.”
Defensemen were credited with an assist on three of Minnesota’s four goals, including Jack Sadek starting the rush that led to Kloos’ game winner.
“If (teams are) going to play aggressive in the offensive zone, we’ve got some wingers who can make plays,” Kloos said.
Relentless and fortuitous bounces helped Minnesota frustrate a Badgers’ offense which entered the game outshooting opponents by an average of 10.89, the second-highest margin in the country behind Penn State.
Knowing that the Badgers had only played two games since Dec.10, Minnesota felt it could easily control the opening 10 minutes by pushing tempo. They were rewarded for that effort when Bristedt knocked in Sadek’s centering pass at 4:30 and center Szmatula own-rebound goal at 11:42 gave even more momentum to the visiting bench.
“Especially right off the bat, we’ve been emphasizing playing fast lately,” Sheehy said. “That’s really been a key for us.”
Getting out shot 18-6 after 20 minutes, Wisconsin won the final two periods on the shot chart and tried to put the screws to the Gophers.
Captain Luke Kunin fired a shot past Eric Schierhorn (29 saves) at 53 seconds into the second period and fourth-line junior Matt Ustaski’s rebound goal at 17:02 fully dug the Badgers out of their early hole.
While Sheehy’s goal with 38.3 left in the period was the backbreaker, especially since the Badgers were left to lament a plethora of missed grade-A chances in the second period, UW felt good going into overtime after Trent Frederic tied the score with a deflection goal and the offense had just delivered a flurry of shots to end regulation.
But in the end the Badgers came full circle, unable to keep an aggressive Minnesota forward from crashing the net.
“It was really back forth,” Wisconsin forward Will Johnson said. “They were crashing their net and we were crashing ours. They got those couple bounces and we didn’t get them.
Big Ten roundup
No.11 Ohio State 3, No.1 Penn State 3 (OSU wins shootout, 2-1)
Ohio State’s Mason Jobst scored his second goal of the night on the power play at 13:59 of the third period to forge a tie with the host Nittany Lions. Playing its first game as the nation’s top-ranked team, Penn State outshot Ohio State, 59-27, but couldn’t hold three separate one-goal leads. Christian Frey stopped 56 shots for Ohio State, which got the extra point in the standings when Sam McCormick beat goalie Peyton Jones in the sixth round of the shootout.
Michigan State 3, Michigan 0
Junior goaltender Edwin Minney made 24 saves for his first career shutout as Michigan State beat Michigan at Yost Ice Arena in Ann Arbor. Freshman Sam Saliba scored a power play at 3:03 in the first period – his second goal in 21 games – that was the difference for the Spartans, which won their first game since Nov.25 and first in conference play. Freshman Jack LaFontaine finished with 26 saves for the Wolverines.