MINNEAPOLIS — For 43 minutes, Wisconsin goaltender Graham Melanson looked unbeatable. The Badger senior and his counterpart, Minnesota’s Adam Hauser, had kept Friday night’s contest a 0-0 tie through 56 shots on goal — 36 of them by the Gophers — and a total of nine power plays.
Then the floodgates opened. Fifth-ranked Minnesota (6-0-1, 4-0-1 WCHA) scored three goals in a span of less than five minutes, including the game-winner by Aaron Miskovich at 3:01 of the third period, and Hauser stopped a total of 31 shots en route to a 4-0 shutout win over No. 2 Wisconsin (7-2-0, 4-1-0 WCHA) at Mariucci Arena.
“I thought we played real well,” said Minnesota coach Don Lucia. “It starts with Adam in nets, and he gave us a real good performance.
As good as Hauser’s night was, through two periods of play he was nearly upstaged by Melanson, who fought through a barrage of second-period chances for the Gophers to keep the game scoreless.
“I thought [Melanson] played exceptionally well,” said Badger head man Jeff Sauer. “If he’s not on, we could get beat by seven, eight goals.”
For the game, shots on goal favored the Gophers 51-31.
“We were not in sync at all,” added Sauer. “It was just one of those nights when I was just watching the clock. … It didn’t feel right on the bench.”
The early minutes were all about missed opportunities. Minnesota got out to a quick start with scoring chances for captain Erik Westrum and freshman Troy Riddle, the latter a one-on-one that Melanson gloved high. A Ben Tharp-Matt Koalska two-on-one also went without a goal, and at the 14-minute mark Miskovich’s wrister from the right circle nailed the crossbar after grazing Melanson’s glove.
At the other end, Hauser was also setting the tone for the evening, denying winger Andy Wheeler on a two-on-one attempt, then helping kill Westrum’s ticky-tack cross-checking penalty by smothering Alex Brooks’ point shot and Kent Davyduke’s rebound chance.
The second period featured six power plays between the two teams, including two generated by super sophomore Dany Heatley’s success at drawing calls against shadowing defenseman Matt DeMarchi. Once on the power play, however, Heatley and the Badgers were unable to convert, as Minnesota’s aggressive penalty kill, anchored by Hauser’s increasingly solid performance, continued its early-season success.
Defenseman Dan Boeser nearly put the Badgers on the board six minutes into the second, clanging his point shot off the left post, and minutes later Hauser blocked down Brad Winchester’s neat mid-air redirection of Alex Brooks’ long slapshot to keep the game scoreless through two.
Minutes later, a fracas erupted. With the Gophers on the power play to start the third period, a strange bounce of the puck left the Badger netminder standing alongside the net with the biscuit in the hands of wide-open Gopher Grant Potulny. Melanson promptly dumped the net off its moorings as Potulny shot, saving what would otherwise have been a Minnesota goal 12 seconds into the frame. Potulny and Westrum argued the call, but the 0-0 score stood.
“There’s no question it was the right call,” said Lucia of the disallowed tally. “It was going to be a goal, and [Melanson] made the smart play.”
The resulting delay-of-game penalty put the Gophers on a five-on-three, but once again no scoring resulted. But with momentum seemingly swinging toward Wisconsin, Miskovich undid all of Melanson’s efforts on a half-shot from the right side of the crease.
After carrying the puck into the zone himself, Miskovich dropped it for Jeff Taffe, whose slapshot rebounded to Miskovich alongside the net. The senior winger’s one-timer was partially fanned, but the puck still trickled past Melanson for a 1-0 lead at 3:01.
That goal, coming on the 37th Gopher shot of the game, was followed by two more in rapid succession, though not before Davyduke came within an eyelash of knotting it up with a wrister off the crossbar — a shot which fooled even Davyduke, who turned away, stick held high, as play continued behind him.
Wisconsin redoubled its aggressiveness on offense, but the gamble turned sour at 6:13 as Riddle outfought Matt Hussey for the puck at center ice, cut through the Badger defense and got off a backhander which Melanson stopped and left in the crease. The loose puck was promptly deposited in the net by trailer Erik Wendell to make it 2-0.
With the back of the net suddenly in sight again, Westrum took advantage just over a minute later, collecting the puck alongside the Wisconsin net and circling to the slot before unleashing a high, hard backhander that sailed over a spread-eagled Melanson and banged in off the crossbar for a highlight-quality goal, his team-leading seventh of the season.
“I knew from playing against him last summer that he’s going to go down on those,” said Westrum, “and I figured I’d just go upstairs.”
The game got chippy after that, with a near-continuous rain of penalties for the remaining minutes of the third. The Gophers added one more goal, a John Pohl one-timer of Westrum’s pretty cross-ice pass that Melanson had no chance to stop.
The victory ended Wisconsin’s seven-game unbeaten streak against Minnesota, including five victories in five tries during the 1999-2000 season.
“We lost five in a row last year against Wisconsin, and that’s all that needed to be said,” said Hauser.
Sauer, meanwhile, was preparing for Saturday’s rematch.
“We laid back and let Minnesota take it to us [tonight],” said Sauer. “Tomorrow, we have to take it to them.”