Everyone at 3M Arena at Mariucci held their breath.
It was one of those classic hockey moments about halfway through the Gophers game Saturday against Ohio State. An odd-man rush of maroon and gold went streaking toward the net, and those witnessing it in real-time could almost envision how it would play out before the puck ever crossed the goal line. An obvious opportunity leading to raucous score — or a clear chance blundered.
But with the Gophers newfound line of Sampo Ranta, Ben Meyers and Brannon McManus orchestrating the play, the result could only be breathtaking.
The Gophers scored that third goal and more, defeating No. 6 Ohio State 4-1 on Saturday in front of an announced crowd of 8,426. Combined with Friday's 6-3 victory, the Gophers' best offensive showing of the year, they have their first Big Ten sweep this season.
McManus rapidly beat his stick on the ice after the game, relishing the all-too-rare moment. He, Ranta and Meyers might have the most cause for celebration on the team. They combined for seven goals and seven assists in the series despite Meyers only bumping up to center that line after an injury to Scott Reedy a week ago.
The second-period score synthesized their brilliance.
Goalie Jack LaFontaine started the play, redirecting a shot to McManus near the blue line. LaFontaine said he had some on-ice awareness of where his teammates were, but he also admitted that that particular line moves so fast, he can't always track them.
"I guess I've got some horseshoes up my butt," LaFontaine said. "But got lucky enough to send the boys on the rush."
That fortune gave way to skill, as McManus quickly poked the puck to Meyers.
"I didn't have a lot of speed. I knew Benny was coming curling with me, so I gave it to him with the speed," McManus said. "And you know those two guys, they're going to fly away. So I kind of let them do it."
Meyers and Ranta took off toward the goal, with McManus trailing a bit behind. Meyers waited for the perfect time to pass to Ranta, skating up on the other side of Ohio State goalie Tommy Nappier. Ranta deftly flicked the puck into the net.
"That line was dynamite," LaFontaine said. "… They were unbelievable. They had the jersey flapping all night."
Playing fast was contagious, something this line started Friday before igniting the whole team and stoking the fire into Saturday. The Gophers sit at 10-10-4, 5-5-4-3 Big Ten, and dropped the Buckeyes, who were first in the conference heading into this weekend, to 15-8-3, 8-6-2 into third now. With five weekends left in the regular season, the Gophers have no more breaks and an onslaught of conference competition on the horizon.
Suddenly, though, hopes of home-ice advantage in the Big Ten tournament and a possible run to the NCAA tournament don't seem so cold and dead but warm and revived.
The red-hot trio of Ranta, Meyers and McManus are the oxymoronic saviors for this weekend, at least. Sopping hearts one moment only to induce palpitations the next.
"It was like kerosene on our bench," Gophers coach Bob Motzko said of the reaction every time that line scored. "It just lit up."