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February 14, 2014

Michigan falls 5-3 at Minnesota

Facing one of the nation's best offenses, Michigan could not afford to play sloppy Friday night, but the Wolverines did, making far too many mistakes in their own zone as they dropped a 5-3 decision to Minnesota, and now fall nine points back of the first-place Golden Gophers.

They say the next goal is huge in hockey, especially when it's a one-goal game, and that was definitely the case in Minneapolis as U-M closed to within one, 4-3, 2:47 into the third period - the Wolverines trailed 4-1 at one point in the second - only to see another botched defensive play end up in the back of Michigan's net at 15:26 to clinch this one for the Maroon and Gold.

"I thought we got back into our game. We played harder, we created more and we made the game a real game. Disappointed that we gave up that last goal, but we had the momentum at that point," head coach Red Berenson said. "Our team got going in the second and got better in the third."

Minnesota dominated Michigan in the first period, outscoring U-M 1-0 while outshooting the Wolverines 16-5, and it looked like the Gophers might run away with this one after they made it 2-0 just 1:19 into the second frame on a breakaway in which the closest Wolverine to the goal scorer was a forward. However, sophomore center Andrew Copp netted a power-play mark at 9:45 to give the Maize and Blue some life.

Six seconds later, though, Minnesota scored again, with Taylor Cammarata skating through Michigan rookie defenseman Michael Downing like he wasn't even there en route to the Gophers' second breakaway goal of the contest.

U-M senior Derek DeBlois may have brought Michigan within one at 14:30 when his rising shot trickled over goalie Adam Wilcox's shoulder and down his back but video replays were inconclusive and the referees ruled no-goal.

"It was stuck on the line and the goalie kind of swung his leg and kept it out," Copp said. It was a heck of a play by the goalie. Those pucks sometimes go in one night but not tonight."

When Minnesota scored six seconds into a power play, off a deflection at 17:29, it appeared the rout U-M had somehow staved off was on, but the Wolverines would not acquiesce to a blowout, scoring on another power play - freshman center J.T. Compher's 11th goal this season - at 18:35 to enter the second intermission with momentum.

When junior forward Zach Hyman scored early in the third, on a nifty individual effort in which he beat two Gopher players before jamming the puck past Wilcox, Michigan stood a very real chance of mounting an incredible comeback win.

Minnesota responded by locking up its own zone, keeping the surging Maize and Blue at bay. And when freshman forward Tyler Motte lost his stick and failed to clear the puck when he reached the blue line with it at his skates (he could have flung it with his hands and avoided a penalty but tried to kick it out of the zone instead), the Maroon and Gold made U-M pay, clinching the win.

Steve Racine made the start in net for the Wolverines - his first start since Dec. 28 - and recorded 32 saves, at times the only reason Michigan didn't trail by five or six goals in the contest. And he didn't have much of a chance at three of the five markers, but there's a strong likelihood freshman Zach Nagelvoort starts Saturday when the two rivals meet again.

"I thought Steve played really well," Berenson said. "He had to play well to keep the game close. I thought it was time for Zach to have a game off or so. We've just got to minimize bad goals, and you know both these goalies can give our team a chance. But our team didn't give the goalie much of a chance."

With Michigan dropping this one, it is imperative it wins the second game and draws even with the Gophers on the weekend and back to within six points of the Big Ten title. A series sweep would almost certainly capsize any hope the Maize and Blue have of contending for the conference crown.

The Wolverines feel they have momentum going into Saturday's contest.

"We played a really good third period," Hyman said. "They outshot us pretty bad in the first period, and we come back and almost even the game. We were firing away and we definitely thought we had a chance to come back."

The puck will drop Saturday at 8:00 p.m. and the game can be seen on Fox Sports Detroit.

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