Wilcox shutout, Rau's goal leads Gophers over Spartans
FEB 01, 2014 11:49p ET
MINNEAPOLIS -- After a one-goal win and two shootout losses to Michigan State this season, the Minnesota Gophers men's hockey team went into Saturday ready for another tight game against the Spartans.
Minnesota coach Don Lucia's message to his team was simple: just find a way to win.
Every game between the new Big Ten Conference opponents has been highly competitive. The Gophers had seen an extra conference point go Michigan State's way earlier this season via the shootout. The Spartans stole another on Minnesota's home ice Friday with another shootout. The Gophers didn't want any repeat in a series that has been close from the get-go.
"They've all been tight and that's what we expected," Lucia said. "That was one of my messages today. I don't care if its 1-0, 2-1. Whatever it takes, we got to find a way to win. It's all about how well you play without the puck and defensively, and we did a much better job of that tonight."
Top-ranked Minnesota has had its hands full with Michigan State, which is 8-13-4 overall and 2-5-3-3 in the Big Ten this year. The story of many of the games has been Spartans' goaltender Jake Hildebrand. It was Saturday, as well.
Kyle Rau scored the lone goal of the game -- his seventh -- for the Gophers (19-2-5, 8-0-2-0 Big Ten), who outshot Michigan State 17-4 in the first period and 38-19 for the game. Adam Wilcox earned his third shutout of the season and sixth of his career with 19 saves.
But Hildebrand came up with 37 saves to push the fourth game of the season between the two teams to another one-goal deciding victory.
"No, I thought we'd get more, but they've got a great goalie," Rau said of expecting more goals after a 17-shot first period. "We knew it was going to be a close game."
The lone tally came 6 minutes, 44 seconds into the first when Rau shot a loose puck on a rebound attempt, which hit Hildebrand and ended up flipping over the goaltenders right shoulder into the net.
"Felt good to score in front there," Rau said. "I don't know. I just tried to get in front of the net and start scoring some goals here the second half of the year . . . I think it ramped up the goalie's stick and I think he batted it in."
Minnesota will take it after putting 29 shots on Hildebrand in the first two periods.
"You got to stay with it," Lucia said. "You can't get frustrated. We had a couple pipes tonight and had some good, clean looks. Even if we would have lost tonight, I would have been disappointed but not upset, because the process is about how you're playing and tonight we played well."
A night after playing short one defenseman, Ben Marshall returned to the lineup and the Gophers limited Michigan State to four shots in the first period and 19 for the game, and were rarely threatened.
Minnesota's defense was forced to chase the Spartans at times on Friday, but was in control Saturday in another defensive battle.
"It was hard-fought to the whistle," Lucia said. "We had a lot of good energy tonight. We blocked shots and played with good tempo and pace throughout the game. Adam didn't have to make a lot of saves. It was something we talked about, we've given up a lot of shots recently. We had to play better defensively and take away time and space. And getting Marsh back in there, he had a real good game getting us out of the zone."
With a bounce-back game defensively, Wilcox did the rest. Rau spoke of the comfort of having Wilcox in goal. In tight, defensive games, the Gophers know they can count on the sophomore Wilcox on the back end.
"Towards the end of the season that's how a lot of these games are going to be," Wilcox said. "They're going to be low-scoring, defenses are going to tighten up. That's going to be everyone's game plan is defense out."
Minnesota made the effort stand up Saturday.
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