On a night where the Gopher power play came back to life, so did one of its leaders.
Redshirt junior captain Zach Budish (Nashvile Predators) scored his first goal of the season to give second-ranked Minnesota (5-1-0, 2-1-0 WCHA) a 3-2 lead over Minnesota State University Mankato (2-3-2, 0-3-0 WCHA) and it proved to be the difference Friday night.
Freshman goalie Adam Wilcox (Tampa Bay Lightning) made 23 saves for his fourth consecutive win while Travis Boyd (Washington Capitals) and Nate Schmidt scored for the Gophers, who went 3-6 on the power play. Minnesota State goalie Phil Cook, meanwhile, made 29 saves in defeat.
"I don't think it's been a secret that I haven't played my best hockey for these first six games," said Budish, who returned to playing alongside his linemates last season Nick Bjugstad (Florida Panthers) and Kyle Rau (Panthers).
However, it wasn't a great start for either Budish or Minnesota in large part thanks to another Zach. With Budish in the box for tripping, Minnesota State sophomore defenseman Zach Palmquist found himself wide open behind Wilcox and was able to easily tap in a JP Lafontaine pass 4:50 into the game to give the Mavericks a 1-0 lead.
"I thought the compete was better. We played well in the first period," said Minnesota State head coach Mike Hastings. "
Unfortunately for the Mavericks, their lead was shortlived. Boyd tied the score at 1 six minutes later on Minnesota's first power play after his shot went past a screened Cook. Boyd's goal was the spark Minnesota needed and ended up changing the tempo of the game. Instead of back and forth play, the Gophers ended up with the majority of the chances for the next twenty minutes.
Minnesota State's best opportunity, however, was good enough to give them a 2-1 lead. After both Max Gaede (San Jose Sharks) and Zach Lehrke tried to stuff the puck past a prone Wilcox, freshman Teddy Blueger (Pittsburgh Penguins) scored on the third effort with 10:27 left in the 2nd period. It capped off an impressive night by the 2012 second round pick, who made his presence known in ways that didn't show up on the scoresheet.
"I thought (Blueger) was good tonight; just not on offense but on both ends of the ice," said Hastings. "We're going to have to find a way to get him to play more tomorrow."
The Gophers once again came back to tie the game on the power play, this time with Nate Schmidt capping a dominating shift. The sophomore defenseman scored by shooting a slap shot past Cook, who was screened by Budish. The screen was so good that Schmidt failed to notice he scored until his teammates started to celebrate.
"We had some good rhythm on the power play," said Minnesota head coach Don Lucia. "Especially the last one. You want to create chances when you aren't scoring and eventually it will happen.
"(Budish), he's focused now on his feet. When he's playing well he's moving his feet."
They continued to get chances with the man advantage as Minnesota State seemed to tire and spend 90% of their time in their own zone. While Budish came close early into the final period when his tip bounced off the crossbar (and was eventually reviewed to be a no-goal), his second opportunity to knock home a rebound was uncontested. The Mavericks had a couple late chances but Wilcox stood tall.
At the end of the night it was a big game for a struggling Minnesota power play. The Gophers, who entered Friday 3 for 20 on the power play, matched their total against Minnesota State and were much more successful in shooting pucks on net and creating chances. It hasn't been easy for them this season - especially when they give up the first goal - but Minnesota was able to take away something from its win Friday.
Minnesota and Minnesota State play again tomorrow night (Sat. November 3rd) in Mankato at 7 pm. CT. The game will be broadcast on Fox Sports North.
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