The Gophers took game one of a best-of-three quarterfinal series against Michigan on Friday after rallying from a 2-0 deficit with three unanswered goals.
The win puts the Gophers in the advantage. Michigan needs to win the next two games to advance to the Big Ten Tournament semifinals while the Gophers need only one.
Michigan scored the first goal of the game when sophomore Michael Pastujov's shot deflected off of a Minnesota skater and into the net with 11:32 to play in the first half. The Wolverines controlled the pace for most of the first half, outshooting the Gophers 11-6 in the period. The Gophers were unable to record a shot on goal until a Rem Pitlick shot was stopped by Wolverines goalie Strauss Mann with 11 minutes to play in the period.
The Wolverines added to their lead quickly in the second period as junior forward Will Lockwood was able to get his shot through the legs of Minnesota goalie Mat Robson just 1:08 into the period, extending the lead to 2-0.
"I don't think anyone was worried," said sophomore Brannon McManus about falling behind 2-0.
The Gophers answered back three minutes later as senior captain Tyler Sheehy moved through the Michigan defense and found the back of the net off a backhand shot. The goal cut the lead in half, and brought the crowd to their feet for the first time all night.
"We needed a play, down like we were and not doing much," said head coach Bob Motzko. "That play got us going. You could feel it on the bench, we needed to feel good. You come into the night and you want to get going and it was like we had a flat tire the first period."
Minnesota carried that momentum into the third period when Sammy Walker and Blake McLaughlin found an opening on a two-on-one breakaway. Walker skated down the left side of the ice and flipped the puck across the ice to McLaughlin for a one-timer that found the back of the net. The goal tied the game with just over 10 minutes to play in the period. Minnesota was unable to capitalize on multiple chances in the final minutes of the period, which sent the game into overtime.
After a few near misses from Michigan sent shivers up the backs of Minnesota fans, Darian Romanko took the puck into the Wolverines' zone. Gaining speed as he passed the blue line, he gained a step on Michigan's Jimmy Lambert. Lambert stretched for the puck but tripped Romanko, giving the Gophers a power play opportunity.
"He put his head down and got a step," Motzko said. "It was a great play to draw the penalty."
On the power play, Pitlick took the puck, circling the net once before finding Brannon McManus from behind the net. McManus redirected the puck into the net, giving the Gophers the overtime victory.
In one of the Gophers' most important series, the announced crowd of 1,835 was the team's smallest of the season, significantly more sparse than the next smallest of 5,292 against Trinity Western on Oct. 20. However, neither Motzko nor the players thought it affected them.
"They know there's a big crowd eight miles from here," Motzko said, referring to the Minnesota State High School hockey tournament which had semifinal match-ups at the same time. "It's a pretty tough night to have a hockey game in the state of Minnesota."
The Gophers will play Michigan again Saturday at 4 p.m. in the second game of the three-game series. A win would secure the Gophers a spot in the Big Ten semifinals. A loss leaves a winner-take-all game on Sunday, March 10.