MINNEAPOLIS, Minn. — Fifth-ranked Minnesota defeated WCHA rival and No. 7 Wisconsin, 4-2, at Mariucci Arena Friday night.
Outscored at even strength, Minnesota had to rely on its power play to notch the win. The game plan was to create traffic in front of Wisconsin goaltender Bernd Bruckler.
“They box out real well. We really wanted to get traffic in front of their goalie and create second changes.” said Minnesota defenseman Keith Ballard.
The recipe resulted in three goals for the Gophers, including the game winner on a power-play blast from between the circles by Ballard. Bruckler was screened on the play by Minnesota’s Thomas Vanek.
“I did not see the puck at all. We have to play better on the penalty kill and power play,” said Bruckler.
Ballard’s goal, 51 seconds into the third period, put Minnesota up 3-1
“When you have a guy back at the blueline that is that kind of threat, it forces you to expand your penalty kill,” added Minnesota coach Don Lucia.
Wisconsin’s opportunity to get back in the game came on a power play midway through the third, but the Badgers failed to close the gap.
Minnesota goaltender Kellen Briggs dropped his stick after a scrum to the left of the crease. A defenseman attempted to hand a stick to Briggs, but Briggs could not hold onto it, leaving both with no sticks.
Meanwhile Wisconsin controlled the puck in the zone, yet failed to muster a shot on net while the two Gophers were without sticks on the penalty kill.
Two minutes later at 11:04, lady luck continued to wear maroon and gold as Badger defenseman Tom Gilbert kicked a rebound into his own net, giving Minnesota a 4-1 lead and cementing the Badgers’ fate.
“You’re happy when you get those kind of plays; we were fortunate to get a break,” said Jake Fleming, who was credited with the goal.
The game started sloppily for both teams. For most of the first period they struggled to find their passes as the puck would not go tape-to-tape.
With the aid of two power plays late in the first, Minnesota started to find a rhythm. Gopher sophomore Tyler Hirsch scored at 14:20 on a power-play goal.
Barry Tallackson was camped in front of the Badger net while Gino Guyer tried to feed him the puck from the right circle. Tallackson swiped at the puck and inadvertently redirected it to a poised Hirsch in the right circle.
Bruckler, expecting the shot from Tallackson, went down and left the net half-open for Hirsch.
The Gophers finished off the opening stanza strong, tallying 10 shots in the final six minutes, highlighted by a power-play goal off a rebound by senior Troy Riddle at 17:29.
“Penalty kills came back to haunt us. It was the difference in the game,” said Wisconsin coach Mike Eaves.
The Badgers scored their first goal of the game at 13:44 of the second. The play started innocently enough at Wisconsin’s blueline where Minnesota’s Vanek left a drop pass for defenseman Ballard.
Ballard proceeded to get his pocket picked by freshman Andrew Joudrey, who hit a wide-open Rene Bourque in stride at center ice. Bourque easily scored on the breakaway, beating Briggs on the stick side.
Meanwhile, during the fast break, Minnesota decided to play hogpile on Wisconsin’s blueline. Two Gophers collided and a third could not get around the wreckage. No Minnesota defenders crossed the redline on the play.
Wisconsin added a second goal with 6.6 seconds left in the game.
“These are huge points. We are now 1-1-1 against them. Tomorrow night is a big game,” said Lucia.
The same two teams face off Saturday night at 7:05.