Despite the dire situation, Justin Kloos saw no hint of anxiety or resignation among his teammates. They reacted just as the Gophers captain expected they would after Penn State scored on a penalty shot last Saturday to take a 3-2 lead with 86 seconds remaining.
"There wasn't a ton of frustration or disappointment," Kloos said. "It was, 'We've just got to find a way to get that next one.' We knew we had a little bit of time to get some pucks on net and see what happens."
That attitude has become a hallmark for this group of Gophers, which showed again that no deficit seems too daunting. After Kloos scored the tying goal with 3.5 seconds left, he set up Rem Pitlick's overtime winner, giving the No.4 Gophers an improbable road sweep over the ninth-ranked Nittany Lions. It marked the second time in three games the Gophers won after trailing in the third period, following a 6-5 victory at Ohio State earned with two goals in the final 7:26.
Over the past 16 games, the Gophers have gone 6-2 when their opponent has scored first. They have won twice this season after trailing 3-0 and twice after falling behind 2-0.
Coach Don Lucia views their ability to rally as something of a mixed blessing, noting he would prefer that they didn't trail so often. Still, it's become a point of pride among his players — and a handy skill to have in a home stretch that continues with this weekend's series against No. 19 Wisconsin, the Big Ten's second-place team behind Minnesota.
"This year, when we've put ourselves in tough spots, we've been really resilient," said Kloos, who has five game-winning goals this season. "It's a testament to our older guys and the younger guys following them, working hard and staying focused at times when it's not always the easiest.
"It's just developing confidence. You never feel like you're out of a game. We have a little bit of confidence and swagger, to be able to come back from those slow starts or couple-goal deficits."
Like many of his teammates, Kloos pointed to an 8-3 loss to Ohio State on Dec. 3 as a turning point in the season. Being routed on their home ice left the Gophers embarrassed and angry, and they vowed to become more persistent when they fell behind.
The players knew they had the tools to dig themselves out of deficits. The Gophers are fourth in the nation in scoring with 3.97 goals per game, and they have good balance, with seven players boasting 10 or more goals. Kloos said they have developed great trust in one another as the season has progressed, along with a growing sense of resolve.
After the Ohio State loss, the Gophers completed a sweep of Michigan State after spotting the Spartans a 2-0 lead. Their two most recent rallies were the most stirring.
Down 3-0 at Ohio State on Feb. 11, they fought back to tie it 4-4 before the Buckeyes regained the lead midway through the third period. The Gophers responded with two power-play goals in three minutes, including Jake Bischoff's winner with 4:26 remaining. At Penn State last Saturday, they trailed 2-0 and tied the score with 2:11 left; after Denis Smirnov's penalty-shot goal gave the Nittany Lions a 3-2 lead, the Gophers calmly took a faceoff with seven seconds left, tied it on a perfectly executed play Lucia had drawn up and charged into overtime to seize the victory.
"I give our guys credit for believing," Lucia said. "They came back with 2 ½ minutes left to tie it, then gave it up, which was a gut punch. Then to be able to say, 'You know what? We're not finished yet,' it was a big win for us.
"When you have the ability to score, you have the ability to come back. We've all been on teams or coached teams where you get down by a couple of goals, and it's just so hard to score that you just don't have a sense you can come back. But if you can score, that's a real key."
While Kloos noted the Gophers are capable of matching opponents in high-scoring games — such as a 5-5 tie against North Dakota in November, when they rallied four times — he echoed Lucia in saying the Gophers must emphasize defense, too. But with every comeback, the Gophers have seen their confidence soar.
"Right now, our mind-set is just incredible, with our will to win," forward Tyler Sheehy said. "There are going to be times in a game when you're down by a couple. But we don't have guys who are going to put their heads down and fold. We have guys who are going to fight back.''
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