MINNEAPOLIS — This one was the Border Blowout.
Minnesota scored four straight goals in the first nine minutes of the game en route to an 8-1 rout of visiting Wisconsin Saturday night.
As opposed to Friday’s freshman-led effort, Saturday’s game featured scoring across the Gopher board. Matt Koalska netted two of the first three Minnesota goals, and Keith Ballard and Barry Tallackson had two apiece as well.
“That’s what was rewarding tonight, that a couple of guys we needed to score goals got them,” said Minnesota coach Don Lucia, who specifically cited Koalska and Tallackson.
“I was pretty frustrated,” agreed Tallackson, whose goals were his first of the season. “Fifteen games and I finally got one in. I hope the rain pours, all the way through to the playoffs.”
In net for the Gophers, Justin Johnson replaced a flu-slowed Travis Weber, and though rarely tested, stopped 19 shots.
Particularly in the early going, Minnesota consistently found room to maneuver in the Wisconsin (10-19-3, 4-15-3 WCHA) zone. Centering passes and tip-ins accounted for grade-A scoring chances all evening long.
The win pushed Minnesota (17-7-7, 12-5-5 WCHA) into third place in the WCHA. The Gophers are eight points behind first-place Colorado College, which split with St. Cloud State, but that’s not the region of the standings Lucia is thinking of.
“We haven’t clinched anything yet,” he said. “We haven’t even clinched home ice.”
The Gopher blitz was so sudden and thorough that the game had hardly begun before it became academic. First, a give-and-go between Ballard and Troy Riddle got Ballard an open shot, and Koalska cleaned up a rebound for the junior’s sixth goal at 3:28.
Ballard got the second goal himself, getting the puck from Jerrid Reinholz, skating into the high slot and beating netminder Scott Kabotoff to his left at 5:30.
Less than two minutes later, Minnesota stunned the Badgers with its third goal. Gathering a loose puck behind the Badger net, Thomas Vanek fed a backhand pass to Koalska, who flicked it home far-side.
“As a first-line guy, I’ve got to bring it every night,” said Koalska, who has been a valuable playmaker this season for Minnesota, though without scoring many goals.
“Playing a team that’s struggled this year and is below you in the standings, you don’t want to give them any light,” said Lucia of the fast start.
With Wisconsin speedily down 3-0, Badger head coach Mike Eaves called timeout to settle his charges.
It didn’t help. At 8:43, the Gophers executed a tic-tac-toe play — Gino Guyer cross-ice to a cutting Paul Martin, then to Grant Potulny for a tip-in, the Gopher captain’s third goal of the season.
The Badgers did momentarily stem the tide. On the power play, Andy Wozniewski lined up a slapshot that was headed well wide, but the shot-pass banged in off John Funk to narrow the lead to 4-1.
Ballard got that goal back at 12:49, ripping a slapper past a screened Kabotoff after a Badger bench minor for too many men.
Tallackson added the sixth and seventh Gopher goals in the second period. The first was a highlight-reel effort at 4:11. Driving toward the net, Tallackson was harried, then brought down by Tom Sawatske — yet swept the puck past Kabotoff while sliding by the net on his stomach.
“The ‘D’ was kind of pinching up on me,” said Tallackson. “It was starting to get away from me.”
Then, a mental mistake by Kabotoff cost the Badgers at 17:37, when Vanek beat him to a loose puck 40 feet from the net and centered to Tallackson, who poked it home for a 7-1 Gopher lead.
Jake Fleming finally made it 8-1 at 5:04 of the third after a center-ice turnover.
Vanek gave the crowd one last charge after a breakaway attempt, skating around and pulling the goalstick out of Kabotoff’s hands, then tossing it away after the netminder had thrown Vanek’s stick behind the net.
For the record, both players picked up interference penalties.
Overall, Kabotoff allowed eight goals while making 29 saves, though the Gophers’ blitzkrieg start and volume of point-blank scoring opportunities made net play almost irrelevant.
“When a game gets like that, it’s all about character,” said disappointed Badger head coach Mike Eaves.
Next weekend, Minnesota visits Minnesota-Duluth for a Friday-Saturday pair, while Wisconsin hosts St. Cloud State.
For the Gophers, each of their remaining weekends pits them against a team they could be battling for playoff positioning in this year’s jam-packed WCHA.
“We can still finish second to seventh,” Lucia said. “It’s scary.”