After a promising three-game winning streak against nationally ranked programs, the Gophers hit a roadblock in East Lansing, Michigan.
As students headed back to campus in Dinkytown over the long weekend, the Gophers lost both games of the series at Michigan State — the first time they've been swept by the Spartans since 1976.
"It was not a good weekend for Gopher hockey," head coach Bob Motzko told reporters after Sunday's game. "We played one period out of the six, and I wish I could sit here with an answer because we're all completely blindsided after what we had just gone through."
Jack Sadek scored to cut the Michigan State (9-12-3) lead to 4-3 with 10:29 left in the third period in Sunday's game, with time to avoid the sweep with another goal or two. Michigan State's Zach Osburn scored less than two minutes later, however, and Minnesota (9-10-4) couldn't respond, taking the second 5-3 loss of the weekend Sunday at Munn Ice Arena in East Lansing, Michigan. The Gophers won their last three games in a row before the Michigan State series.
The Spartans' Mitchell Lewandowski scored a back-door goal for a 4-2 lead with 12 seconds left in the second period. Michigan State's Cole Krygier scored on a one-time slap shot right after the faceoff earlier in the second period.
Minnesota forward Rem Pitlick tied it 2-2 at 9:33 left in the second period thanks to a back-door pass from linemate Tommy Novak after he caught his own rebound off the goalie, wrapped around the net and found Pitlick wide open on the back door with an open net.
Michigan State's Sam Saliba scored a back door goal on the low-blocker side of Gophers goaltender Mat Robson just after the Michigan State power play ended to give them a 2-1 lead early in the second period.
Gophers' Blake McLaughlin tied the game 1-1 midway through the first period, beating Spartans' goalie John Lethemon low on his glove side at 10:04 left in the first period. The Spartans' Adam Goodsir scored his first collegiate goal at the start of the first period to put the Gophers in a 1-0 hole on Sunday afternoon.
Gophers end three-game winning streak
Minnesota struck first in the series' first game at Michigan State on Saturday when freshman forward Sammy Walker found the back of the net with just under five minutes played in the first period. However, Michigan State's top line, which accounts for nearly 50 percent of point production for the Spartans, struck back with four unanswered goals — three of which were on the power play. Minnesota rallied in the third period with two back-to-back goals from Brannon McManus and Rem Pitlick to make it 4-3 late in the game.
But as the Gophers pulled their goalie for an extra skater in the final moments, the Spartans' Jerad Rosburg scored an empty-net goal with 12 seconds left, marking a 5-3 loss for Minnesota.
“We started off hot. I think we were ready to go. We just got into trouble with penalties,” Walker told reporters after the first game. “Ultimately that was what hurt us the most.”
Robson allowed three total goals in the last three games before allowing four in Saturday's game. However, the goals he allowed involved heavy screens and deflections that were difficult to stop. Robson allowed four on Sunday too, before he was pulled in the third period for Eric Schierhorn.
The Gophers split a two-game series against Ferris State over the winter break before playing a series against ranked Penn State, which they also split. The highlight of the break came when the Gophers swept Notre Dame, which was ranked ninth, in an away series. It was the first series of the season where Minnesota took victories in both games of the weekend.
"We were playing good hockey. We didn't lose it. It just disappeared for a Saturday and a Sunday," Motzko told reporters.