MADISON, Wis. — If the referees could have called Saturday’s game between Minnesota and Wisconsin after two periods, there is a good chance they might have done just that.
Following two periods of play, the Gophers were up 5-1 on the Badgers and the third period only provided further proof that the game belonged to Minnesota as the Gophers added two more goals to leave Madison with a 8-2 victory and a series split.
“We talked about putting ourselves back in the race,” Wisconsin coach Jeff Sauer said. “They were the better team tonight.”
From the get-go, things did not look opportune for Wisconsin. 6:50 into the game, Minnesota had a two-man advantage after UW was called for two penalties within 15 seconds of each other. It did not take the Gophers long to take advantage of a power play as Erik Westrum picked up a loose puck and fired a shot between Wisconsin goaltender Graham Melanson’s legs.
Halfway through the first period, Wisconsin came up with the equalizer on a Dave Hergert goal. Hergert received the puck from David Hukalo, worked his way toward the goal and fired a shot past goaltender Adam Hauser, making the score 1-1.
It took Minnesota only 36 seconds to regain the lead for good, however. Jeff Taffe skated toward the goal, faked a shot to send Hukalo down to his knees and then shot the puck high past Melanson before the Wisconsin goaltender could react.
In the opening period, Wisconsin did not appear to come out with the same intensity as was seen in the first period on Friday. Despite a power-play opportunity and a flurry of UW shots late in the period, Wisconsin trailed Minnesota 2-1 at the end of the first period.
“I don’t think Minnesota played any better tonight, they just had more intensity,” Sauer said.
In the first minute of the second period, Minnesota’s relentless offensive attack was able to strike again. This time, it was Grant Potulny making the score 3-1 as he received a Troy Riddle pass just as he was skating in on the corner of the goal. Potulny flicked the puck up into the net before Melanson could do anything.
Two minutes and 18 seconds into the period, Wisconsin had its best chance at getting back into the game. UW had a two-man advantage for over a minute, but failed to take advantage, keeping the Gopher lead at two goals.
“[We] did absolutely nothing on the five on three. If we get a goal there it is 3-2 and we are back in the game,” Sauer said.
Later on in the second period, Minnesota once again found the back of the net. Jordan Leopold controlled the puck near the blue line on a Gopher power play, shot through a crowd and nailed the net, breaking the game open at 4-1 14:55 into the period.
“When they got that fourth goal it kind of took us out of it,” Sauer said.
Less than a minute later, Minnesota added its fifth goal of the night on a shot by Matt DeMarchi. Taffe skated in with the puck and passed it back to DeMarchi, who shot a one-timer past Melanson, giving Minnesota an insurmountable lead of 5-1.
The onslaught continued in the third period as the Gophers notched another goal 1:54 into the period. Potulny used a power-play opportunity to increase the lead to 6-1.
In a game that was anything but close, special teams seemeed to be the difference-maker.
Minnesota was an outstanding 5-for-8 on power plays while Wisconsin could only muster a 1-for-7 effort following Friday’s 0-for-6.
“The first period and 10 minutes of the second period it was a good hockey game. The difference in this game was special teams,” Sauer said.
Eight minutes and 39 seconds into the third, UW added the second of its two goals on the night, this one coming from Dan Boeser, who earned his second goal of the season on a strong shot from close to the blue line.
Minnesota put in two more for the final margin. The first came from Matt Koalska against UW goaltender Scott Kabotoff, who was sent in earlier in the period to replace the ineffective Melanson. The second came off the stick of Potulny, earning the Minnesota freshman his first career hat trick.
The Minnesota victory allows the Gophers to keep pace with the top teams in the WCHA, while the loss for the Badgers means that Wisconsin is running out of opportunities if it hopes to achieve home ice in the conference playoffs.
“Its a big loss, there is still hockey to be played. Hopefully we will take care of business,” Wisconsin captain Jeff Dessner said. “We just didn’t have it tonight. Ups and downs, that’s life and that’s hockey.”