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Michigan hockey splits a pair of OT games against No. 2 Minnesota

The Wolverines earned three critical points in a a hard fought six periods in Minneapolis.

Syndication: Detroit Free Press Junfu Han / USA TODAY NETWORK

The Michigan Wolverines (14-9-1; 6-8) earned a critical three points in the standings with one OT loss and one OT victory against the No. 2 Minnesota Golden Gophers (18-7-1; 12-3-1). In a college hockey weekend that saw No. 3 Denver and No. 1 Quinnipiac both get swept, points have never been at more of a premium.

Game 1

For the first time since November, the Wolverines came out prepared for the first game of a two-game series. Despite a strong opening effort, forward Mark Estapa was called for a five-minute game misconduct with less than a minute remaining in the first period. Ethan Edwards was called for a minor initially but after review, the officials upped the penalty and changed the guilty party. As dubious as it may seem, Estapa’s night was over.

The Gophers scored 12 seconds into the penalty and took a 1-0 lead into the second period. Michigan killed off the rest of the penalty in the middle frame and finally pulled even when Eric Ciccolini banged home a rebound. This was special for Ciccolini because he was forced to leave the first game against Minnesota back in November after a cheap shot from Logan Cooley.

With less than five minutes remaining in the period, Minnesota regained the lead on a Matthew Knies drive to the net. However, this lead would be short lived as the Adam Fantilli-Gavin Brindley connection would account for two goals in 15 seconds.

Brindley — riding momentum from his outstanding World Juniors performance — joined the top line of Fantilli and Dylan Duke for this game and the chemistry was immediately evident.

Brindley found an unmarked Fantilli for a snipe past Minnesota goalie Justen Close for the first goal. And for the second goal, Fantilli threw a drifting backhand through traffic that found Brindley’s stick for a blast to give the Wolverines a 3-2 lead after two periods.

In the third period, Michigan played conservatively and attempted to drain the clock. This worked until there was 4:20 remaining when Minnesota rocketed a shot from the point past worn-down defenders to force overtime.

The overtime period was largely dominated by the Wolverines, until a late power play gave the Gophers life. With eight seconds remaining, a blocked shot drifted to the stick of Knies who found a wide open net. Gophers, 4-3.

The officiating for both sides was an abject disaster in this game. Minnesota had a goal waved off in the third due to an early whistle, and Michigan had a game-winner wiped off the board for the same reason in overtime. Minnesota, the least penalized team in the conference, was rewarded with 23 penalty minutes compared to Michigan’s — the most penalized team in the conference— four, and that discrepancy proved to be the biggest difference in this one.

Three Michigan stars

1- Gavin Brindley (one goal, one assist; two points)

2- Adam Fantilli (one goal, one assist; two points)

3- Erik Portillo (Made 44 saves with a .917 save percentage)

Game 2

Ten seconds into the first period, Dylan Duke already had a shot on net for the Wolverines. This opening play set the tone for Michigan, which was aggressive and physical on both checks to start this game.

Less than two minutes into the first period, Jacob Truscott forced a Cooley turnover, which led to a rush led by Mackie Samoskevich. Samo skated into the zone and left a drop-off pass for a crossing Jackson Hallum. Hallum lost possession, but the loose puck found a trailing Ethan Edwards who fired home a blast past Close.

With 12:15 remaining in the first, the hypnotic chemistry of Fantilli and Brindley struck again. Brindley powered into the zone and stopped point-blank in front of Close to fire a shot on goal. The rebound careened behind Brindley where Fantilli followed-up and buried Michigan’s second goal of the game to give the Wolverines a 2-0 lead

However, Minnesota wasn’t going quietly into the good night. Just over a minute later, the Gophers got onto the board after a deep zone turnover behind Portillo set up a point-blank shot that squeaked by the Super Swede.

Michigan dominated possession, the neutral zone, and had several opportunities that were solely eliminated by the superb play of Close in net.

In the second period, the Gophers responded with a strong push of their own. On its second power play of the game, Minnesota’s Huglen charged the net and snuck the equalizer past Portillo. Less than two minutes later, a blue line rocket — reminiscent of the late third period equalizer last night — gave Minnesota the lead, 3-2.

Michigan responded less than two minutes later when a Hallum rush collapsed the defense on the right side. His shot was blocked by Close, but landed right on the stick of Fantilli who buried the equalizer and his second of the night, 3-3.

After a penalty-filled period and several huge saves by Minnesota goalie Justen Close, Michigan was finally able to break the tie with just under three minutes remaining in the period. Drifting to the right of the net, TJ Hughes put a shot on net that was redirected by Close right to Michigan’s Jacob Truscott, who buried the go-ahead goal into an empty net.

The Wolverines appeared to be taking a one-goal lead into the third for the second straight night, but this time it was different. In the waning seconds of the period, Minnesota’s Jimmy Snuggerud was called for a game misconduct penalty. Michigan would open the third period with 4:55 remaining on a major power play.

On the power play to open the third period, Minnesota put the clamps down and held Michigan scoreless. The third period was largely a stalemate until Minnesota — with just under three minutes remaining— scored the game-tying goal to once again force overtime.

But Saturday night would be different. After losing the zone on the first possession, Michigan made a line change. Luke Hughes danced with the puck and drifted into the zone awaiting reinforcements. Truscott came in unmarked and fired home the game-winner past Close.

Game, Wolverines, 5-4.

Three Michigan stars

1- Adam Fantilli (two goals)

2-Jacob Truscott (two goals)

3-Luke Hughes (three assists)