MINNEAPOLIS -- The pessimist will call it too little, too late. The optimist will see a successful tune-up for the playoffs. Whatever the label, the Minnesota Gophers are headed to the Big Ten tournament not as regular season champions, but at least on a winning streak.

On an evening they honored the seniors, Minnesota got a key power play goal from Scott Reedy and a solid performance in the net from Jack LaFontaine, closing the regular season with a 4-2 win over Michigan.

Their arch-rivals, Wisconsin, had clinched the conference title earlier in the day, but the Gophers will head to the Big Ten tournament as the second seed with a 16-6-0 conference record. That’s good for a .727 winning percentage -- the formula used to determine the regular season champ, with teams playing an unbalanced schedule due to COVID-related cancellations. The Badgers finished 17-6-1, for a .729 winning percentage and therefore earned the regular season banner.

“I thought we played a very solid hockey game, all four lines and all the defensemen, special teams. This was a good win for us tonight,” Gophers coach Bob Motzko said, noting that his team had five home losses in the second phase of the season, and a victory in any one of those would have won them the league title. “We had our opportunities. Time to roll on.”

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Bryce Brodzinski and Blake McLaughlin also scored for the Gophers, and sophomore defenseman Ryan Johnson scored his first career goal with a 195-foot shot into an empty net. LaFontaine added 22 saves to earn a split in the weekend series and a 3-1 win in the season series with the Wolverines.

Although it was not the game-winner, the key goal was Reedy’s as he hit the upper corner of the net over the shoulder of Michigan goalie Strauss Mann with another Wolverine in the penalty box. It was a long time coming, and a good confidence boost for the Gophers power play, which had scored just once in its previous 17 man-advantage opportunities.

“I think the game is all about momentum in all areas -- (penalty kill), power play and 5-on-5 so anytime you can get one it’s just building on that,” Reedy said. “That was a huge one for us.”

Before the game even began, the Gophers knew their quest to hang a Big Ten title banner had come up short. Wisconsin got two goals from superstar Cole Caufield to come from behind at Michigan State and win 2-1, thereby grabbing the Badgers’ first regular season conference title since they won the WCHA in 2000. That locked the Gophers into a second place finish. They will face Michigan State a week from Sunday at 3 p.m. at Notre Dame in the opening round of the Big Ten tournament.

“We knew, but we didn’t say a word about it,” Motzko said of the Badgers’ win. “The focus was the exact same no matter what their outcome was. We needed to get our 20th win tonight and we got it.”

Leading 3-2 with the Wolverines’ net empty, LaFontaine made a point blank save and the puck went to Johnson below the goal line. The first round pick of the Buffalo Sabres sent the puck the length of the rink into the net, prompting a huge celebration among his teammates.

“That’s not how I envisioned it, but I’ll take it. It felt so nice,” said Johnson, whose father Craig was a Gophers standout in the early 1990s. “They were kind of hemming us in and I felt that icing would relieve the pressure, so I tried to make a little move and throw it toward the net and it kind of curved in.”

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Michigan (14-9-1) will face Ohio State in their Big Ten tournament opener. All games will be played at Compton Family Ice Arena on the Notre Dame campus.

“I thought we played well in stretches but we gave that team too many chances,” said Wolverines assistant coach Kris Mayotte. “Our penalty kill wasn’t very good tonight, or at least we weren’t very effective.”

The Gophers finished the regular season 20-6-0 overall, with a 9-1 record on the road and a 11-5 mark at home.

View Jess Myers' postgame video review here.

Game Summary

Michigan 1-0-1—2

Minnesota 1-1-2—4

First period — 1. MINN, Bryce Brodzinski 7 (Sammy Walker, Blake McLaughlin), 16:25. 2. MICH, Nick Blankenburg 5 (Owen Power, Thomas Bordeleau), 17:20. Penalties — Brock Faber, MINN (holding), 6:02; McLaughlin, MIN (interference), 11:25.

Second period — 2. MINN, Scott Reedy 2 (Jackson LaCombe, Brannon McManus), 11:36, (pp). Penalties — Jack Becker, MICH (hooking), 11:15; LaCombe, MINN (interference), 14:19.

Third period — 4. MINN, McLaughlin 10 (LaCombe, Walker), 3:39. 5. MICH, Becker 4 (Brendan Brisson, Bordeleau), 17:03. 6. MINN, Ryan Johnson 1 (unassisted), Penalties — Nolan Moyle, MICH (tripping), 1:34.

Shots on goal — MINN 8-12-7—27; MICH 6-8-10—24. Goalies — Jack LaFontaine, MINN (24 shots-22 saves); Strauss Mann, MICH (27-23). Power plays — MINN 1-of-2, MICH 0-of-3. Referees — Kenneth Anderson, Colin Kronforst. Linesmen — Sam Shikowsky, Nicholas Bradshaw. Att. — NA.