Playing in their final conference game of the season, the Gophers were in desperate need of a victory.
They were playing to keep alive their hopes of attaining home-ice advantage in the first round of the Big Ten tournament. With its back against the wall, Minnesota (14-15-4, 11-10-3-0 Big Ten) defeated No. 16 Notre Dame (17-12-3, 10-10-2-2 Big Ten. The team clung to a one-goal margin, earning a series split with a 2-1 victory.
"It was a hard-fought hockey game," said head coach Bob Motzko."We scored two goals on the down-low play, we had an attack tonight. [Junior goaltender Mat Robson] was strong when we needed him. We needed a bounce-back night and we got it."
Just like the series-opening defeat on Friday night, Minnesota got off to a strong start. Junior Tyler Nanne put the Gophers in front with a first-period goal off a nice feed from junior Rem Pitlick.
"[Pitlick] likes to find me in the slot," Nanne said. "I passed to him yesterday and it didn't connect. We made sure it connected tonight."
Momentum shifted after senior Tyler Sheehy took a penalty for interference with 8:18 remaining in the first period. Though Notre Dame didn't score, it controlled the run of play until the first intermission.
The Fighting Irish continued to put pressure on Minnesota in the early stages of the second period, culminating in an equalizing goal just under five minutes in.
The score remained tied for less than five minutes before sophomore Scott Reedy beat the Notre Dame goaltender, junior Cale Morris, top-shelf to give the Gophers a 2-1 advantage. On the play, the Gophers battled on the forecheck and freshman Garrett Wait found Reedy, who made the most of his second chance.
"I saw one of our guys in there battling for the puck," Wait said. "Then I saw [Notre Dame] had pinned it against the wall, so I pinned him against the wall trying to steal the puck from under his skate. I saw Reedy open in the slot and I found him."
The difference remained a single goal throughout the rest of the game. Things got so tense within the early stages of the third period, though, that one particular body check on Gophers forward Brannon McManus shattered the glass in front of the penalty box.
With their net empty in the final minutes, the Fighting Irish sent a barrage of shots toward Robson, who answered the bell every time. Despite multiple deflections and scrambles in front, the puck never crossed the goal line.
"It's more fun to see the guys selling out in front of me," Robson said. "Our defense made a few saves there at the end, helped me out. Obviously to pull it off was like a cherry on top of the cake. It was fun."
While the Gophers forwards weren't able to work many pucks to the net, totaling just 17 shots on goal, Motzko credited his front line for taking pressure off the defenders. He said they controlled possession in the Notre Dame zone for long stretches.
"We needed to hold a team down to zero, one or two [goals]," Motzko said. "What really helped is we weren't in our zone all the time. We could breathe a little bit."
Since the rest of the Big Ten has conference games next weekend, Minnesota can only wait and watch to find out if they will hang on for home-ice. Meanwhile, the Gophers will host No. 11 Arizona State in their final regular season series.