MINNEAPOLIS, Minn. — A wild third period that started with broken glass ended with broken Big Ten regular-season title hopes for the No. 16 Notre Dame hockey team as Minnesota held on for a 2-1 victory early Saturday evening in 3M Arena at Mariucci.
Coach Jeff Jackson’s Irish managed only a second-period goal by freshman Alex Steeves at the 4:50 mark among the 27 shots they directed at Gopher goalie Mat Robson, who finished with 26 saves, half of them in the third period. Four of those 13 saves came in the final 2:11 after Jackson pulled his goalie, junior Cale Morris, who made just 15 saves.
“We’ve had this issue all season long — we can’t find a way to score goals on a consistent basis,” Jackson said. “It’s just the nature of the Big Ten now. I thought we played well in the first and third. The second period, I thought, was the difference in the game.”
Minnesota’s Scott Reedy scored the game-winner at 9:28 of the second period from 20 feet out, and first-year coach Bob Motzko’s Gophers (14-15-4) ended their Big Ten schedule at 11-10-3-0 for 36 points. They entertain No. 11 Arizona State, an independent, next weekend to close the regular season.
The loss sent the Irish home at 17-12-3 overall and 10-10-2-2 in the Big Ten for 34 points, ending their hopes of defending the regular-season title they earned in their first season as an affiliate hockey member of the conference. Notre Dame was in third place but that could change depending on the later outcomes of Ohio State at Michigan and Wisconsin at Penn State.
“I’m more concerned about how we’re playing going into the playoffs,” Jackson said.
Notre Dame entertains Penn State Friday and Saturday evenings at 7 to close out the regular season and would need to win the three-week Big Ten playoffs to gain an NCAA tournament berth.
Robson, who finished 3-1 against the Irish after winning both games last month in South Bend, stopped point-blank efforts by Colin Theisen, who scored twice in Friday’s 3-2 Irish win, and Jake Pivonka after Jackson pulled Morris.
A mad scramble in the crease with 1:39 left after Robson lost sight of a pass by Cal Burke ended with the puck underneath the Minnesota goalie courtesy of his defenseman Jack Sadek, who grabbed the puck with his glove. A review by the officials ruled no goal and no penalty shot.
As they did in their 3-2 loss Friday night, the Gophers went ahead 1-0 on Tyler Nanne’s goal from the slot at 8:53 and the Gophers had the early edge in shots at 8-3.
But a power-play opportunity for the Irish — Minnesota’s Tyler Sheehy went off for interference at 12:42 — turned the tide in shots. Notre Dame did not score, but Bobby Nardella, Andrew Peeke, Michael Graham and Mike O’Leary all had chances in the two minutes. Over the final 7:28, the Irish outshot the Gophers 7-0 for a 10-8 advantage heading to the locker room.
The Irish tied it at 4:50 of the second period with their all-freshmen line. Cen Pivonka started the play by sending the puck behind the net where left wing Graham Slaggert backhanded a pass to right wing Steeves, who skated out and beat Robson along the ice inside the far post for his seventh of the season.
But the goal awakened the Gophers, who pressured Morris before taking the lead on Reedy’s sixth goal of the season at 9:28.
There was a delay 31 seconds into the third period when Pivonka checked Brannon McManus into the boards at center ice, the Gophers’ elbow shattering a pane of glass.
A wild and empty third-period finish would only add to Notre Dame’s pain.
MINNESOTA 2, NOTRE DAME 1
3M Arena at Mariucci, Minneapolis, Minn.
Notre Dame 0 1 0—1
Minnesota 1 1 0—2
First Period—Scoring: 1. Minnesota, Tyler Nanne 4 (Rem Pitlick, Brent Gates) 8:53 (even). Penalties: Notre Dame 0-0, Minnesota 1-2.
Second Period—Scoring: 2. Notre Dame, Alex Steeves 7 (Graham Slaggert, Jake Pivonka) 4:50 (even); 3. Minnesota, Scott Reedy 6 (Garrett Wait, Ryan Zuhlsdorf) 9:28 (even). Penalties (total): Notre Dame 0-0 (0-0), Minnesota 0-0 (1-2).
Third Period—Scoring: None. Penalties (total): Notre Dame 0-0 (0-0), Minnesota 1-10 (2-12).
Power-play opportunities—Notre Dame 0 of 1, Minnesota 0 of 0.
Shots on goal—Notre Dame 10-4-13—27, Minnesota 8-5-4—17.
Goalie saves—Notre Dame, Cale Morris 7-4-4—15, Minnesota, Mat Robson 10-3-13—26.
A—9,563. Time—2:20. Records: Notre Dame 17-12-3 (10-10-2-2 Big Ten for 34 points), Minnesota 14-15-4 (11-10-3-0 Big Ten for 36 points).
• Notre Dame 3, Minnesota 2: Colin Theisen scored two goals, Cam Burke had the other and goalie Cale Morris made 24 saves as the Irish rallied from a 2-0 first-period deficit to move into solo possession of second place in the Big Ten with 34 points, seven behind OhIo State.
The Gophers took the lead with goals by Brannon McManus and Nathan Burke, but Theisen began the comeback with a power-play goal at 2:47 of the second period on a setup from defenseman Tory Dello. Cam Burke then tied it at 17:43 of the period when he nudged Pierce Crawford’s backhanded centering feed past Minnesota goalie Mat Robson.
Theisen’s game-winning goal, his 10th of the season, came on a wrister at 8:01 from the mid-slot area after Cam Morrison dug the puck out along the boards. Morris made 12 saves in the final period while Robson finished with 28 saves as the Irish outshot the Gophers, 31-26.
Notre Dame 0 2 1—3
Minnesota 2 0 x—2
First Period—Scoring: 1. Minnesota, Brannon McManus 10 (Tommy Novak, Robbie Stucker) 4:09 (even); 2. Minnesota, Nathan Burke 6 (Sammy Walker, Blake McLaughlin) 12:00 (even). Penalties: Notre Dame 2-4, Minnesota 1-2.
Second Period—Scoring: 3. Notre Dame, Colin Theisen 9 (Tory Dello, Cal Burke) 2:47 (ppg); 4. Notre Dame, Cam Burke 3 (Pierce Crawford, Jack Jenkins) 17:43 (even). Penalties (total): Notre Dame 0-0 (2-4), Minnesota 2-4 (3-6).
Third Period—Scoring: 5. Notre Dame, Colin Theisen 10 (Cam Morrison, Matt Hellickson) 8:01 (even). Penalties (total): Notre Dame 1-2 (3-6), Minnesota 0-0 (3-6).
Power-play opportunities—Notre Dame 1 of 3, Minnesota 0 of 3.
Shots on goal—Notre Dame 8-14-9—31, Minnesota 6-8-12—26.
Goalie saves—Notre Dame, Cale Morris 4-8-12—24, Minnesota, Mat Robson 8-12-8—28.