SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- On Valentine’s Day, the Minnesota Gophers and Notre Dame Irish provided fans with the equivalent of a nice card, a box of chocolates, a romantic dinner, a cute teddy bear and a sparkly piece of jewelry to top it off. In a game with the intensity of playoff hockey and a little bit of everything else, they skated to a 3-3 tie, with the Gophers earning an extra point in the shootout.
The Gophers (13-11--5 overall, 8-6-5-4 Big Ten) got goals from all three members of the team’s red-hot top line -- Scott Reedy, Blake McLaughlin and Sammy Walker -- building an early lead, then coming from behind for the tie. After neither team could score in 5-on-5 or 3-on-3 overtime, Brannon McManus got the only goal of the sudden death shootout.
“That was a game with a a little bit of the good, bad and the ugly,” Gophers coach Bob Motzko said. “Notre Dame was rusty to start. They were off for a week, and we got two breaks. Then Notre Dame got really good and stayed good.”
Gophers goalie Jack LaFonatine, making his first start of the month, had 39 saves on the night. The extra point, coupled with Wisconsin’s upset of Penn State, moved the Gophers into a tie with the Nittany Lions atop the Big Ten standings. The league’s top six teams are separated by just four points in the standings.
The Irish got goals from Colin Theisen, Nick Leivermann and Cam Morrison to take a 3-2 lead into the third period, before Walker scored to force overtime.
Notre Dame, which was off last weekend, looked just rusty enough on the game’s opening shift for the Gophers to grab an early lead. After LaFontaine thwarted a brief flurry in front of the Minnesota net, Reedy and McLaughlin got loose for a 2-on-1 break, with McLaughlin feeding the puck across the slot to Reedy for a chip shot goal over the left leg pad of Irish goalie Cale Morris. It was the team-leading 15th goal of the season for Reedy.
“We did a great job playing a full game out there,” Reedy said. “Obviously there were a lot of ups and downs but we battled back from it. It was a long game that went to a shootout but a lot of energy spent and it was well worth it.”
McLaughlin doubled the Gophers’ lead via a pass from Walker on a play the Irish challenged for offside, but after a review it was declared a good goal.
Then the Irish stormed back, getting one in the first period on a put-back in front of the net after LaFontaine made the initial save. Early in the second Notre Dame tied the score on a shot from the blue line by Leivermann that slipped through a crowd and hit the back of the net before the goalie could react. Leivermann, a defenseman who hails from Eden Prairie, Minn., now has five career goals, and four of them have come versus the Gophers.
Notre Dame took the lead later in the middle period on a power play, when got loose for a 2-on-1 break and Morrison’s wrist shot eluded LaFontaine’s glove.
But Walker hit the pipe on a third period power play, then got a shot that counted later to re-forge a tie.
“The third period was a battle and all we talked about was somehow, some way we had to tie the game, because they were going to go into lockdown mode,” Motzko said. “Walker’s line was just a beast tonight, and for McLaughlin that was probably the best game I’ve seen him play. He did that here last year as well. This is a good building for him.”
Both teams had chances in an end-to-end first overtime, and in the 3-on-3 overtime, Reedy was awarded a penalty shot after being hooked on a breakaway to the net. On the penalty shot, his attempt at a backhander hit snow at the side of the crease and he did not get a shot off.
McManus scored on the opening attempt of the shootout on a rising puck that hit the crossbar, then the back of the Notre Dame goalie’s neck before falling over the goal line. When Tory Dello’s shootout attempt went wide left for the Irish, giving Minnesota the critical extra point.
“I kind of just read off Morris. I saw with Reedy’s penalty shot that (Morris) came out kind of high, so I wanted to force it a little bit and see what he gave me,” McManus said. “Luckily, top glove was open."
Gophers co-captain Tyler Nanne went hard into the end boards in the 3-on-3 overtime and referees whistled the play dead immediately, with the team trainer running to attend to Nanne. He left the ice under his own power but his status for the Saturday game is unknown.
“Playoff hockey, basically,” Irish coach Jeff Jackson said. “My only disappointment was filling behind 2-0 and chasing the game, but we came back and took the lead in the second period, so you just hope you can finish it off.”
Morris finished with 31 saves for the Irish. The series concludes on Saturday with a 5 p.m. CT start.
Notre Dame 1-2-0-0—3
First period — 1. MIN, Scott Reedy 15 (Blake McLaughlin, Sammy Walker), 0:28. 2. MIN, McLaughlin 7 (Reedy, Walker), 13:00. 3. UND, Colin Theisen 7 (Mike O’Leary, Tory Dello), 14:36. Penalties — Walker, MIN (slashing), 17:23.
Second period — 4. UND, Nick Leiverman 4 (Cam Burke, Matt Hellickson), 3:04. 5. UND, Cam Morrison 8 (Cal Burke, Spencer Stastney), 15:26, (pp). Penalties -- Michael Graham, UND (hooking), 4:32; McLaughlin, MIN (slashing), 8:18; Dello, UND (cross checking), 8:18; Ryan Johnson, MIN (hooking), 15:13; Alex Steeves, UND (tripping), 17:45.
Third period — 6. MIN, Walker 10 (Matt Staudacher, Garrett Wait), 10:13. Penalties — O’Leary, UND (slashing), 5:51; Alex Steeves, UND (high sticking), 17:34.
Shots on goal — MIN 11-10-11-2—34; UND 19-9-12-2-42. Goalies — Jack LaFontaine, MIN (42 shots-39 saves); Cale Morris, UND (34-31). Power plays — MIN 0-of-4; UND 1-of-2. Referees — Colin Kronforst, Kenneth Anderson. Linesmen — Nick Huff, Riley Bowles. Att. — 4,854.