Head coach Don Lucia said the Gophers had Michigan right where they wanted them.
Minnesota held a one-goal lead after the second period of the Big Ten Championship game after erasing a two-goal deficit.
The lead wasn’t to last, though, and neither was the Gophers’ season. The Wolverines scored three goals in the third to end Minnesota’s tumultuous season with a 5-3 victory at the Xcel Energy Center on Saturday.
“We just came up a period short,” junior captain Justin Kloos said. “We came into the season with the same expectations as every season: hang a couple of banners and play in the NCAAs and give ourselves a shot. And we came up short.”
Michigan (24-7-5) scored three power-play goals on four chances, including the game-winning goal by sophomore defenseman Zach Werenski which made the score 4-3 with 4:33 remaining.
Junior forward Tyler Motte scored his second goal of the night on an empty net with 23 seconds remaining to send the Gophers off the ice for the last time this year.
Minnesota (20-17) allowed only one five-on-five goal but gave the nation’s top power play too many chances.
“[Michigan’s] power play has been on fire, and when you can put five players on the ice like that, that ultimately became the difference in the game,” Lucia said. “Their power play and their top-end guys were the difference in the game tonight.”
The Wolverines’ top-end players shone on Saturday, as the team’s best line of Motte, junior JT Compher and freshman Kyle Connor totaled nine points with four goals. All three are top-10 finalists for the Hobey Baker Award, which goes to the best individual player in college hockey.
Connor, who leads the nation in goals and points, scored the game-tying goal on a tricky play that made freshman goaltender Eric Schierhorn fall down in the third period.
“He scores big-time goals,” Lucia said. “He’s playing with Compher and Motte, two really elite players. … You get thrown in with that experience, in his natural spot on the wing on the power play where he can make plays from there.”
Connor’s goal was Michigan’s first since early in the second period. Compher scored to put the Wolverines up 2-0, but Minnesota responded with three goals in just more than 10 minutes to take a 3-2 lead after the second.
Minnesota sophomore forward Leon Bristedt scored first, then junior defenseman Jake Bischoff tied the game a little over halfway through the period.
Kloos gave the Gophers the lead on a power-play goal just more than six minutes later.
“I think for 60 minutes we were pretty hard today,” Kloos said. “We lost essentially a one-goal game. And we lost to a good team.”
The loss denied Minnesota a second consecutive Big Ten tournament title and its fifth NCAA tournament berth in a row.
The Gophers earned their fifth consecutive regular season conference title earlier in the year but failed to add to their trophy case.
The team will graduate three seniors and will likely retain a large portion of its roster. Lucia, however, only has one year remaining on his contract.
“Did we become what we could become? … I would have to say, yes. I think this team did,” Lucia said. “Is there frustration because we’re not playing next week?
Disappointment? Yes. There’s no question that we’re disappointed and frustrated, but when I look in the locker room, andtonight, they gave us everything they had.”