MINNEAPOLIS - The Michigan State hockey team played fifth-ranked Minnesota to a 1-1 tie on Saturday in the final game of the regular season at Mariucci Arena in Minneapolis. The Spartans won the shootout, 2-1, to pick up the extra point in the standings.
After a five minute overtime, neither team converted in the opening round of the shootout, while Minnesota’s Justin Kloos and Taro Hirose traded goals in round two. After Connor Reilly missed for the Gophers in round three, Zach Osburn won the shootout for MSU.
“We made some minor adjustments from last night,” MSU head coach Tom Anastos said. “Overall, I thought we executed our game plan very well. They’re an awfully good team, but I thought we defended really hard and I thought we attacked much better.
“Obviously the guys came through in the shootout, so it’s good to be on the winning end of that.”
The Spartans (7-23-4, 3-14-2-1) outshot the Gophers, 9-7, in the opening period and were rewarded at the 12:27 mark when Appleton jammed his own rebound into the net.
Hirose started the play by forcing a turnover behind the Gopher net, allowing Sam Saliba to take the puck at the side of the net and feed Appleton in front. Goaltender Eric Schierhorn stopped Appleton’s initial one-timer from the top of the crease, but Appleton stayed with it and swept the rebound into the net for his team-leading 12th goal of the year.
The second period featured more chances for both teams with Minney turning away all 11 Gopher shots. The Spartans went 0-for-1 on the power play in the period but their best chance came off the stick of Joe Cox just past the midway point of the middle period. An outlet pass sprung Cox loose through the neutral zone and behind the Gopher defense. Cox lost the handle on the puck for a moment, but got off a snap shot that Schierhorn was able to glove and keep it a 1-0 game.
The Spartans killed off 1:55 of Minnesota power play to start the third without much a threat. A kick save by Minney on a one-timer from the slot by Vinni Lettieri kept the Spartans in the lead, but the Gophers eventually evened the game just under four minutes into the third.
An extended possession by Minnesota (23-10-4, 14-5-1-0) in the MSU end got the got the Spartans running around and Kloos and Rem Pitlick combined to find an open Jake Bischoff cutting to the net.
Minney made one of his best saves of the night with a minute to play in the third period when he stretched to stop a shot from Kloos on a 2-on-1.
“We got excellent goaltending tonight and that’s critical to winning,” Anastos said.
MSU killed all three Gopher power plays Saturday night and extinguished all five on the weekend.
“Our penalty kill was excellent against an excellent power play,” Anastos said.
The Spartans will meet the No. 3 seed Ohio State in the opening round of the Big Ten Tournament on Thursday at Joe Louis Arena at 4:30 p.m.