"I actually was trying to do exactly what I did," said Pitlick after Friday's 5-3 loss. "It hit his stick and went directly to the area I wanted it to go."
His goal ended up being the #4 play on last night's Sportscenter Top 10.Rem Pitlick swats yet another puck out of midair and scores for the Gophers pic.twitter.com/yjLWl2vesO— CJ Fogler (@cjzero) March 4, 2017
Pitlick, who has scored 9 goals over the past 9 games, was on a two-on-one with Justin Kloos in the final minute of the first period. The freshman said he tried to saucer pass the puck to himself as he skated past Michigan defenseman and Minnesota Wild draft pick Nicholas Boka.
Boka got his stick on the puck, but it wasn't enough to stop the Gophers from taking a 2-0 lead.
Unfortunately for Pitlick, he wasn't as happy with the goal after the game, a 5-3 loss where the Wolverines clawed back from a pair of Gopher leads.
"It doesn't matter because we didn't win," he said.
Big Ten tiebreakers
If you missed my game story for the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, go read it.
One consequence of Minnesota's loss to Michigan on Friday is that the Gophers no longer control its own destiny for winning the Big Ten outright.
Wisconsin defeated Penn State 7-4 at Pegula Arena. Both teams share the same 12-5-0-0 record.
Minnesota would be #1 seed in the Big Ten conference tournament if the two teams each win the remaining 3 games, however. The Gophers
If two teams are tied, the first tiebreaker is number of Big Ten conference wins. Both teams will share that with 12-15 in a tie. The second tiebreaker is the best regular season winning percentage against one another. In this case the Badgers and Minnesota split their four games against one another.
(The remaining tiebreakers are, in order: Best winning percentage against highest ranked Big Ten teams in conference games, which Minnesota would also currently take thanks to going 4-0 against PSU; total goals for and against each team in games against one another; and if that doesn't work, a coin flip.)
The good news for Minnesota is that the Gophers continue to have an easier schedule with a second game against Michigan and hosting sixth-place Michigan State. Wisconsin faces Penn State and hosts Ohio State next weekend.
In addition, third place Penn State sits eight points (28 total) behind Minnesota and Wisconsin. Any combination of two points won by the Gophers or lost by PSU means Minnesota would clinch a first-round bye as one of the top two finishers. Fourth-place Ohio State, which sits 2 points back of PSU, lost to Michigan State cannot win the conference or get a first round bye.
Teams earn three points for a regulation/OT win, two points for a shootout win, one point for shootout loss and zero points for a regulation/OT loss.
Still, Minnesota's players are approaching the stretch run as if they cannot afford another slip up.
"We know what's at stake tomorrow. It's a must-win," Taylor Cammarata said before the Wisconsin game went final. "We have to win three games to win the league."
Minnesota fell to fifth in the Pairwise due to last night's loss. With a win the Gophers would have still fallen to fifth.
That's because Western Michigan defeated Minnesota Duluth 7-4. The Gophers (.5745) and Broncos (.5725) were close in RPI to one another entering the weekend. WMU getting the boost of beating a team ahead of it in UMD was enough to win the comparison and jump past Minnesota into a #1 seed even if both teams won.
(Having three NCHC teams as #1 seeds also makes an interesting problem with the NCAA Tournament if North Dakota plays its way back into the field as a four seed. Only Harvard would be able to play the Fighting Hawks as the committee tries to avoi.)
By losing, the gulf between Minnesota and Western Michigan widened further. The Gophers are nearly a .01 of point behind WMU after losing to the 36th placed team in the Pairwise.
Taylor Cammarata & unheralded seniors playing well
For Cammarata, the third period changed when the Gophers gave up a shorthanded breakaway to freshman Will Lockwood.
"Honestly I thought we had the momentum the whole period until that power play we had," he said. "After that it was just kind of a mess."
Lockwood, who didn't play in the series in Minneapolis, showed why the freshman is an important part of Michigan's forward corps. He had several breakaway and partial breakaway chances. It was one reason that the Wolverines were able to continually test Eric Schierhorn and put up 40 shots.
"We can't give up 40-plus shots," said head coach Don Lucia.
I also thought Cammarata had one of his best games of the season. His power play goal was very Kyle Rau-esque, making the most of the area in front of the goalie in spite of the senior's 5'7", 170 lbs frame. Prior to that he almost set up Brent Gates Jr. and had other chances to set up his linemates throughout the game.
One of those ended up being an assist on Vinni Lettieri's third period goal.
Between Cammarata and Michigan seniors Alex Kile (1G-2A), Zach Nagelvoort (35 saves) and Evan Allen (GWG) producing for the Wolverines, Friday was a good night for unheralded seniors.
Given the players Michigan lost who could be seniors this year (JT Compher just got called up to the NHL) or even upperclassmen (Zach Werenski, Dylan Larkin), it's a difficult situation and a topic mid-week.
"There's not much you can do. That's the hard part. As much as the fans think it shouldn't matter it does matter," said Lucia when I asked about how coaches can work through losing players early. "It's hard to plan for when you're going to lose players at what point you're going to lose players.
"Michigan lost two key forwards in back-to-back years in Larkin and (Kyle) Connor. I'm sure then they recruited them they thought they'd have them for at least a couple years anyways, but then you lose them in back-to-back years and it's a huge hole. We only have 18 scholarships, we don't have 90. Our kids have to come in and play right away. When you lose those kids early it's hard to recover sometimes.
"Sometimes you're covered. You have a key player coming in the following year, but they don't come along every year."
Minnesota PK and second period woes
The Gophers penalty kill went 2-4 Friday. Over the past 7 games the PK, which for a 12 game stretch earlier this season was the second-best in the country, has struggled. Minnesota's penalty kill is operating at a 66.6% success rate (9 for 27).
"Some of it were our errors, but they made plays when they had the opportunities," Lucia said about Friday's penalty kill.
Michigan's two power play goals came in different forms. The first one saw the Gophers have two chances to clear the puck out of its own zone and fail. The first saw a Jack Ramsey chance blocked. The second had Michigan keep the puck in on the blue line.
Spending over a minute without being able to change, Alex Kile eventually found Tony Calderone on the back door for a tap-in goal.
On the second, the Wolverines were able to get it in the slot and move the puck.
Between that and Friday being the third consecutive game where the Gophers were outplayed in the second period, there's room for improvement. Minnesota has been outscored 7-0 in the middle frame of the last three games.