Sweep, help give Minnesota third

The Gophers sneaked into third place after Wisconsin took just one point in Duluth.

Ben Goessling

The sounds were coming from everywhere Saturday night, all of them signaling Minnesota’s men’s hockey team was back on track.

Music blared from Minnesota’s locker room, competing with raucous laughter as center Gino Guyer entertained teammates with his impressions routine.

And the commotion was well-founded.

Entering the WCHA playoffs, the Gophers said they have never felt better.

Minnesota swept Michigan Tech in Houghton, Mich., during the weekend, scratching out a 4-2 win Friday before romping past Michigan Tech 5-0 on Saturday.

With the sweep and Wisconsin’s loss and tie at Minnesota-Duluth, Minnesota moved up to third in the WCHA standings and negated the effects of a six-week swoon.

But just as important, the Gophers returned the favor to a Huskies team that swept them in January at Mariucci Arena.

“We didn’t just want to beat them; we wanted to give them an embarrassment,” center Ryan Potulny said. “And we went in and dominated for six periods.”

Minnesota’s 5-0 victory Saturday was perhaps the perfect picture of the Gophers’ restored health.

Five different players scored goals, and three registered multi-point games – an output reminiscent of Minnesota’s success in November and December.

And after giving up three or more goals in nine consecutive games, the Gophers held an opponent to two or less for the third-straight contest as Justin Johnson registered his third career shutout.

“We’ve got a lot of good signs going for us right now,” coach Don Lucia said. “It’s that time of year, and guys understand we have to have everybody playing well right now.”

The Gophers got exactly that during the weekend.

Minnesota took big first-period leads in both contests, leading 3-0 Friday and 2-0 Saturday.

Michigan Tech rallied for two second-period goals Friday, trailing by one entering the final frame. But Johnson stuffed Chris Conner’s breakaway attempt by throwing his glove up at the last second to deflect the shot high, and Andy Sertich clinched the win with his fifth goal of the year at 12:34.

Saturday night’s win wasn’t nearly as tenuous.

The Gophers buzzed Huskies goaltender Cam Ellsworth all night, building a 4-0 lead before the third period and chasing Ellsworth from the game after Barry Tallackson’s goal with 15:03 left.

Tallackson’s tally was Minnesota’s ninth of the weekend, and he became the Gophers’ ninth different goal-scorer.

On the other end, Johnson was rarely tested, facing 26 shots, most from the outside.

“At the ‘U,’ this is the best (I’ve felt). It’s been a nice string together,” said Johnson, who has started the last four games after Kellen Briggs broke a bone in the pinky on his left hand. “It’s kind of gone along with the team. From the first game against St. Cloud State (last weekend), we’ve been steadily climbing.”

You didn’t need to hear it from Johnson to know the Gophers were riding high.

The party in Houghton told the story pretty well.