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Late Spartans goals sink Gophers in 4-2 loss

MINNEAPOLIS — In his first season behind their bench, Minnesota Gophers coach Bob Motzko has found a few ways to coax wins out of his new team. Finding ways to produce wins with any consistency is proving to be his biggest challenge.

Riding a winning streak, and holding a commanding lead at home Saturday, the Gophers let one slip away and again showed a lack of consistency. Brody Stevens scored the go-ahead goal and set up another in the third period as Michigan State rallied from a two-goal deficit and handed the Gophers a 4-2 loss.

Minnesota (4-6-1 overall, 2-2-0-0 Big Ten) built a 2-0 lead as captain Tyler Sheehy scored a pair of power play goals, only to see the Spartans mount a furious rally to snap their six-game losing streak. Taro Hirose had a goal and two assists for the Spartans (5-7-0, 1-3-0-0).

“That happens some nights, because you don’t come with that same intensity every single game, but certain games you’ve got to find it,” Motzko said. “Once we had the two-nothing lead we should’ve found it. And then we made just colossal mistakes that we hadn’t seen in a while. And they were bad mistakes.”

The Gophers, who won the series opener in a rout, had much more trouble getting pucks on net Saturday and left Spartans open in front of goalie Eric Schierhorn too often. Schierhorn finished with 18 saves in the loss, falling to 1-3-0 as a starter.

Stevens got the go-ahead goal in the third when left alone at the top of the crease, putting a low shot past Schierhorn to break a 2-2 tie. Tommy Apap added an insurance goal near the midway point of the period for the Spartans, who got their first Big Ten win of the season.

“Our guys just did a better job. They were in lanes and on top of things and better in transition, and they battled,” said Spartans coach Danton Cole. “If you don’t have that, and don’t have the compete level, the X’s and O’s don’t matter. Tonight they worked real hard.”

The Spartans defense held the Gophers to just three shots on goal in the scoreless first period, and each team had a full two minute power play without putting a puck on the net. Schierhorn was busy during even-strength play but turned aside the seven shots sent his way in the first.

The Gophers finally broke through near the midway point of the game on their third power play opportunity. Spartans goalie Drew DeRidder stopped a hard shot from the blue line by Clayton Phillips, but the rebound got loose enough for Sheehy to clank it off the post and into the net.

Less than three minutes later, Sheehy used a pair of Spartans as a screen to block DeRidder’s view, then hit the upper left corner of the net for his second consecutive two-goal game.

“The end of that second period kind of shot us in the foot,” Sheehy said. “We can’t take any minutes off during the game. I thought we had all the momentum and then they kind of took it and ran with it for the rest of the game.”

The Spartans’ dangerous top line answered twice in the final two minutes of the second period, knotting the game at 2-2 when Hirose scored off a pass from Patrick Khodorenko, then set up Khodorenko’s tying goal 71 seconds later.

“They got back in the game, the whole energy switched, they were blocking shots, you could hear them screaming and they were going to put an end to their losing streak,” Motzko said.

DeRidder had 28 saves for the Spartans, who had last won in regulation at Minnesota in February of 2015.

Game Summary

Michigan State 0-2-2—4

Minnesota 0-2-0—2

First period — No scoring. Penalties — Scott Reedy, MIN (slashing), 4:39; Christian Krygier, MSU (elbowing), 14:40; Brannon McManus, MIN (hooking), 18:18.

Second period — 1. MIN, Tyler Sheehy 4 (Clayton Phillips, Sammy Walker), 10:09, (pp). 2. MIN, Sheehy 5 (Blake McLaughlin, Sampo Ranta), 12:27, (pp). 3. MSU, Taro Hirose 6 (Patrick Khodorenko, Mitchell Lewandowski), 18:03. 4. MSU, Khodorenko 9 (Hirose, Zach Osburn), 19:14. Penalties — McLaughlin, MIN (tripping), 2:18; Bench/Lewandowski, MSU (too many men), 3:48; Austin Kamer, MSU (hooking), 9:43; Khodorenko, MSU (boarding), 11:07; Darian Romanko, MIN (hooking), 12:37.

Third period — 5. MSU, Brody Stevens 3 (Hirose), 7:24. 6. MSU, Tommy Apap 1 (Stevens, Brennan Sanford), 9:42. Penalties — None.

Shots on goal — MSU 7-6-9—22; MIN 3-11-16—30. Goalies — Drew DeRidder, MSU (30 shots-28 saves); Eric Schierhorn, MIN (22-18). Power plays — MSU 0-of-4; MIN 2-of-4. Referees — Brett DesRosiers, Brett Sheva. Linesmen — Samuel Shikowsky, Chad Roethlisberger. Att. — 8,353.

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