MANKATO, Minn. — Wisconsin weathered an early storm by Minnesota State and rode a hot second period to a 6-2 win.
The Badgers (13-4-5, 7-2-5 WCHA) were led by defenseman Tom Gilbert, who tallied two goals and an assist, and goalie Bernd Bruckler, who stopped 29 shots in front of 4,190 spectators at the Midwest Wireless Civic Center.
After failing to start strong at home most of the season, the Mavericks came out of the gate running. MSU outshot No. 3 Wisconsin 18-12 in the first and had many scoring opportunities, but the score was just 1-1 going into the second.
David Backes got the scoring started as he fired a shot from the left circle. Bruckler got a piece of the shot, but the puck squeezed under his arm and rolled past the goal line for Backes’ 10th goal of the year.
“I thought I had it for a second,” Bruckler said. “It definitely hit me, but it trickled under. One that I’d like back, for sure.”
Bruckler made amends by preventing MSU (4-12-4, 3-8-3 WCHA) from adding to the lead. Cole Bassett’s shorthanded breakaway was stopped by Bruckler midway through the first.
The junior goalie also robbed Christian Toll on two consecutive chances later in the period and finished the first with 17 saves.
“We score on a couple of those (opportunities), it’s a whole different game,” said Maverick captain Shane Joseph.
Meanwhile, Wisconsin capitalized on MSU’s inability to score and tied the game at 14:11 of the first. Freshman Ross Carlson, playing in just his second collegiate game, danced around MSU defenseman Lucas Fransen and swung the puck inside the far post to get his first career goal.
“He’s a good improvement for our team,” Gilbert said of Carlson.
“To have the first period that we did and have it be 1-1 … that’s no excuse for the way we came out in the second, but it is one of those things as a coach where you look at it and say we need to be ahead 3-1, maybe even 4-1 after that first period with the opportunities we had,” Minnesota State coach Troy Jutting said.
Wisconsin dominated the second period by outshooting the Mavericks 14-4 and climbed to a 4-1 lead.
Adam Burish notched his second goal of the series early in the second period. Nick Licari started the play by firing a slapshot from the left side that hit MSU goalie Kyle Nixon high. Nixon appeared stunned, and Burish pounced on the rebound and make the score 2-1 at 1:03.
John Funk scored his second goal of the year at 11:04 of the period. Mark Heatley made a nice play to keep the puck inside the MSU zone and flicked the puck to Funk alone in front of the net. Funk grabbed the puck with his glove and dropped it before firing it over Nixon.
At 16:48 of the period, Gilbert finished a three-on-two rush by flipping the puck over Nixon’s left shoulder for his fourth goal of the season.
“We knew they were going to come out strong and with a lot of emotion and a lot of heart,” Bruckler said. “But for us, we just need to get back to systems. And in the first period, we weren’t there yet. So we talked about it in the dressing room, and our guys were able to get it done.”
Gilbert scored his second of the night by finishing a backdoor play on the power play at 11:15 of the third.
“We don’t know why, it just seems like we (the defensemen) are getting in the offensive rush a lot,” Gilbert said. “More scoring chances come off rebounds or late defensemen coming in. It gives us a lot of confidence that we’re scoring a lot right now.”
Heatley added a goal before MSU’s Kurtis Kisio scored with a minute remaining to cap the 6-2 score.
“Obviously we didn’t come out with the same speed that we had in the first period,” Jutting said of the rest of the game. “We had 18 shots in the first period and had one goal. They had 18 shots in the last two periods and had five goals.”
The win, paired with St. Cloud’s loss to North Dakota, gave Wisconsin a share of first place in the WCHA — a nice gift for UW coach Mike Eaves, who missed the series due to the World Junior Tournament. Associate coach Troy Ward filled in for Eaves.
“It was a must-win situation for us, and we had to make a statement,” Bruckler said. “We haven’t won in two games, and we needed to get back on track. We played a lot better systematically today. A lot of guys stepped up and did a good job for us.”
Friday night, Ward mentioned that the Badgers needed to work harder to “manufacture goals.” They did just that Saturday.
“I felt that we kept it a little bit simpler,” Ward said. “We got pucks in the net. I thought the Burish goal was a real trademark of what we tried to do and what we talked about today; to get pucks to the net and get bodies to the net and get second and third opportunities. And we got some ugly goals, so to speak.”
For Jutting and his team, a team that finished tied for second in the WCHA last season, the game was another opportunity that slipped away, a trend that could condemn them to the bottom of the standings.
“It was an important game,” Jutting said. “If we want to finish in the top half of the league, it was a game I felt we had to get tonight.”
Wisconsin will return home to host Michigan Tech, while the Mavericks will take a weekend off before hosting Minnesota.