Rare shutout loss leaves Gophers frustrated

MINNEAPOLIS — The University of Minnesota men’s hockey team entered its weekend series against Denver with the best power play unit in the WCHA. If you didn’t know that as you watched Friday’s game, however, you might have thought the Gophers’ power play unit was among the worst in the conference.

Minnesota was 0-for-5 on the power play Friday and had just two total shots on the man advantage all night. It was that kind of a night for the Gophers, who fell 2-0 to the visiting Pioneers at Mariucci Arena.

“That kind of summed up our team,” Lucia said of the power play. “When you get outshot 8-2 on your own power play, it’s not going to be your night.”

The Gophers’ first three power plays went nowhere. The special teams had its first opportunity early in the first period after Denver’s Scott Mayfield went off for tripping.

No shots on goal for Minnesota.

Later in the first period, the Pioneers again took a penalty, this time for too many men on the ice at the 6:48 mark of the period.

Same story for the Gophers, who couldn’t even muster one shot on Denver goaltender Juho Olkinuora.

“Our power play was horrible,” said Gophers captain Zach Budish. “Our first unit, we didn’t even get set up for the most part. … Just no quality chances.”

As a result of the struggling power play, Minnesota ended the scoreless first period with just four shots on goal to Denver’s 10. Things didn’t change much in the second period for the Gophers, who once again failed to find the net on their third power play of the game after a Pioneers tripping penalty.

“We had just low energy right from the get-go,” Lucia said. “Denver’s a good team. We didn’t give ourselves a chance to win with how we played tonight.”

Two more power plays yielded two total shots for Minnesota, but no goals. Denver finally broke the scoreless tie 18 seconds into the third period on a goal by Shawn Ostrow as he beat Gophers goalie Adam Wilcox. Minnesota got 17 shots on goal in the third, but Olkinuora stopped every one to blank the Gophers.

It was the first time since March 12, 2011 that Minnesota had been shut out, a span of nearly two years. The Gophers even heard some boos from the home fans as the offense continued to sputter.

“We’re embarrassed,” Budish said. “We deserved to get booed tonight. Top to bottom, we just weren’t good.”

Needless to say, Lucia was not pleased in the locker room after the game.

“They got an earful. They may not feel better, but I do,” Lucia said. “I’m agitated. I’m really disappointed. I don’t get on them very often, but the expectation is that playing hard is a given. That has to be the foundation every night.”

Minnesota’s offensive drought couldn’t have come at a worse time in the season, either. The Gophers entered Friday’s game in second place in the WCHA behind St. Cloud State. Minnesota was also just one point up on Nebraska-Omaha and North Dakota.

St. Cloud State won, giving the Huskies a four-point edge on the Gophers in the conference standings with just three regular-season games remaining.

“Games get tighter in the month of March,” Budish said. “It’s pretty much playoff hockey from here on out. We’ve got to figure it out pretty quick here, come back here tomorrow, regroup. … It’s basically up to us as players to make sure we’re ready to go and play a full 60 minutes and just create more offense.”

Follow Tyler Mason on Twitter.