Minnesota back on NCAA bubble after road split

Minnesota forward Justin Kloos races to the puck in the first period against Michigan State at Mariucci Arena on Feb. 26.

Daily File Photo, Holly Peterson

Minnesota forward Justin Kloos races to the puck in the first period against Michigan State at Mariucci Arena on Feb. 26.

by Ben Gotz

As the Gophers enter the season’s home stretch, they’re a model of consistency.

But it’s not the type of consistency they’re looking for.

For the third consecutive weekend, the team won its opening contest before falling the next day.

Saturday’s 5-2 loss to Ohio State could prove particularly costly for the Gophers, as they would have moved into first place in the Big Ten with a victory.

Instead, the Gophers are tied for second place and back on the NCAA tournament bubble.

“I mean, it was the same thing the last three weekends,” sophomore forward Justin Kloos told reporters on Saturday. “Come out on Friday, put ourselves in a situation to get a sweep on Saturday and then just blow it, so this one obviously stings.”

The Gophers didn’t seem to sense the sting coming after Friday’s victory, a program record-setting 391st for head coach Don Lucia.

 “It’s never your goal to sit there and say you’re going to be the all-time winningest coach,” Lucia told reporters after the game on Friday. “Obviously, when you’re the coach at Minnesota, you’re going to get the chance to coach outstanding players. … Really, whenever a coach reaches a milestone like this, it’s because of the players and staff he surrounds himself with.”

Senior captain Kyle Rau interrupted Lucia’s postgame address to provide him with the game puck after the 4-2 victory.

The Buckeyes fought to keep the record away from Lucia and answered the Gophers’ first two goals the following shift, keeping the game tied.

But Rau secured the honor for his coach with a goal in the second period, and this time, the Gophers did not let the Buckeyes respond.

“[We] came out, we got the first goal — that was an emphasis today. And the next shift, they came out and scored,” Rau told reporters on Friday. “We score again and the next shift after that, they score again. The shift after a goal is always a big shift for us. It’s something we didn’t want to do, but I’m proud of the guys. We didn’t let it bother us. We kept going.”

The Gophers were unable to score first again on Saturday, facing a 1-0 deficit for the fifth time in their last six games.

They fought back to take a 2-1 lead in the second period thanks to the Gophers’ third line of Kloos, and sophomore forwards Taylor Cammarata and Vinni Lettieri.

But the Buckeyes didn’t go away.

Ohio State tied the game on a delayed penalty, and the team took the lead again early in the third period.

The Gophers were forced to pull junior goaltender Adam Wilcox with just more than a minute remaining, and the Buckeyes took advantage with two empty-net goals to clinch the contest.

“We played catch-up,” Lucia told reporters on Saturday. “By trying to play catch-up, we became too loose and tried to force some things.”

The loss set the Gophers back in the standings, continuing their win-loss pattern yet another week.

“One of these times we’re going to have to learn from it. Otherwise, it’s going to bite us in the butt,” Cammarata told reporters on Saturday.