Gophers hockey burnt by sluggish start in loss to Spartans

With Friday's loss, the Gophers missed a chance to stay ahead in the Big Ten standings. Michigan beat Wisconsin to tie Minnesota atop the conference with 30 points.

MINNEAPOLIS — Another comeback wasn’t in the cards for the Gophers men’s hockey team.

A night after coming back from a 3-0 deficit to win, Minnesota was chasing Michigan State on Friday night. The 14th-ranked Gophers gave up the first goal for the fourth straight game and lost 4-2 to the Spartans.

"It was an emphasis for us to score first," Minnesota forward Kyle Rau said. "We didn’t do that. We came back yesterday but you can’t continue to put yourself behind right off the get-go."

Rau scored twice, including his 15th goal of the season with 4:24 remaining to close within 3-2, but the Gophers lost for the second time in three games. Hudson Fasching had two assists and goaltender Adam Wilcox made 30 saves in his return for Minnesota (18-11-3 overall, 9-4-3-0 Big Ten).

With the loss, the Gophers missed a chance to stay ahead in the Big Ten. Michigan beat Wisconsin to tie Minnesota atop the conference with 30 points.

Rallying against Michigan State isn’t where the Gophers wanted to be in the two-game series. The Spartans (14-14-2 overall, 8-6-2-2 Big Ten) are 13-2-2 this season when scoring first. Meanwhile, Minnesota allowed the first goal in splitting last weekend’s series at Penn State and did the same this weekend against Michigan State.

"We’ve played pretty good hockey," coach Don Lucia said. "But all of a sudden we’ve given up the first goal four straight games. In some ways you’re lucky to come out 2-2 giving up the first goal in four straight games."

The Spartans scored on three of their first four shots in Thursday’s game. Minnesota native and Minnesota Wild draft pick John Draeger gave Michigan State the lead Friday with his first goal of the season 44 seconds into the second period.

"The best team won tonight," Lucia said. "First period, we lost a lot of draws. They started with the puck a lot. We had . . . some momentum the first five, six minutes but they kind of took the first period over. . . . I thought they defended well. They were first on pucks. They were winning more battles and they deserved to win."

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Rau answered by poking home a goal on a scrum in front of Spartans goaltender Jake Hildebrand, who made 22 saves.

Michigan State took control with a late second-period goal by Ryan Keller and earned a two-goal advantage 7 minutes into the third period. Rau answered later on the power play to get within one, but Thomas Ebbing scored with on a power play with 46 seconds left.

"They were keeping us away from the front of the net," Rau said. "That’s how we scored last night, so I’m sure it was an emphasis for them this morning. They did a good job of that and they beat us 4-2 in front of our own net and that was the game."

Wilcox had missed Thursday’s game with an injury. He made 14 saves in the first period and 12 in the second on Friday. Lucia said Wilcox came out of the game healthy and should be ready when Minnesota travels to Ohio State next weekend.

"I was happy the way he played, actually," Lucia said. "He did have a little limited practice time this week but he looked 100 percent. The way it turned out, we played it the right way. One game this weekend, now he gets a couple days off and he should be fine. Adam wasn’t our issue tonight. We couldn’t find our game tonight and I think a lot of credit goes to how Michigan State played."

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