MINNEAPOLIS — Entering the third period Friday night, Minnesota needed a spark. The Gophers got it, then watched it turn into a full-fledged blaze.
Down 2-1 to archrival Wisconsin after two periods, Minnesota tied the score 11 seconds into the final stanza on Gino Guyer’s first goal of the season. And then, with Wisconsin threatening to retake the lead on the power play, Danny Irmen’s shorthanded breakaway became that rarest of hockey moments.
Irmen picked up a loose puck and went in on netminder Bernd Bruckler, then got tripped from behind by Andrew Joudrey. Referee Derek Shepherd crossed his arms above his head before pointing to center ice.
Penalty shot, Minnesota.
Starting from the red line, Irmen deked twice before firing the puck past Bruckler at 5:28 of the third period to give Minnesota the 3-2 lead and the win.
On the play that led to the penalty, Irmen had a half-step lead on Joudrey, who dove and swung his stick wide, catching Irmen’s skate and knocking the sophomore winger to the ice. Shepherd didn’t hesitate with the call, but Wisconsin (5-3-0, 3-2-0 WCHA) head coach Mike Eaves wasn’t so sure.
“I sure hope [Shepherd] watches the video and is able to look me in the eye tomorrow,” said Eaves. “He has to make the call from his perspective.”
Even then, the penalty shot wasn’t exactly a gimme. Minnesota (6-2-0, 4-1-0 WCHA) coach Don Lucia had the option of taking the power play, which was doubly tempting since accepting the penalty shot would put Wisconsin right back on the power play afterward, goal or no goal.
“I figured, this weekend’s for the fans,” said Lucia. “[Irmen] showed a lot of poise … He made a great move.”
“I think [the fans] needed that,” said Kellen Briggs of Irmen’s goal, “especially after a second period that wasn’t so good for us.”
Indeed, Minnesota’s third-period performance erased the then-story of the game: the play of Bruckler. The All-American stopped 42 shots, including 23 in the second period alone as the Badgers took a 2-1 lead.
“The good thing is that the Bernd we know and love is back,” said Eaves of his starting netminder, who had struggled early this season.
And for all the drama surrounding Irmen, Guyer’s goal might have been the key. Moments into the third, the junior center outraced the Badger defense to a free puck and skated in alone. He beat Bruckler to the far post for his first goal of the season to knot the score at 2.
“I thought the important goal was Gino’s,” said Lucia. “We scored right away [in the third] … When you have two good teams it’s going to go back and forth, and we made the last play.”
After Irmen’s penalty shot, and with the Wisconsin power play back on, a Chris Harrington crosscheck gave the Badgers their second five-on-three of the game, but Minnesota’s penalty-kill rose to the occasion. And with Bruckler finally off for the extra skater, Nick Licari put a point-blank shot on net that Briggs stopped to preserve the win.
“The timely save is as important as how many saves you make,” said Lucia. On the evening, Briggs stopped 26 shots, 11 of them in the third period.
The early going was a tale of special teams. Despite two power plays early in the first, the Gophers could not score. In fact, the second power play resulted in two shorthanded breakaways for Wisconsin; on the second, Licari hit the post with a wrist shot from the edge of the crease.
For the game, Minnesota went 0-for-6 with the man-advantage, Wisconsin 1-for-6.
After killing a UW five-on-three, Minnesota got Ryan Potulny’s nation-leading ninth goal of the season to take the lead. Potulny deflected Alex Goligoski’s shot from the point high to Bruckler’s right, tucking the puck under the crossbar at 14:22 to make it 1-0.
Wisconsin evened it up four-on-four early in the second period. Joudrey took a backdoor pass from Davis Drewiske and skated in unopposed, roofing a backhander over Briggs at 1:08 for his first goal of the season.
A Minnesota five-on-three ensued minutes later, but again the Badgers were the ones to take advantage. A Badger clear found Matt Olinger leaving the box for another shorthanded break, but Briggs went low to save his stuff attempt.
Nevertheless, amid a flurry of Minnesota shots on net, Wisconsin took the lead. With Mike Howe in the box for obstruction-holding, Kyle Klubertanz received a cross-ice feed from Jeff Likens and skimmed the puck by Briggs, who couldn’t quite seal off the near side. Klubertanz’s second goal of the year made it 2-1 Wisconsin at 8:00 of the second.
That presaged Guyer and Irmen’s heroics as Minnesota won its 14th straight home game, extending a school record and tying another one for longest home unbeaten streak. Two other streaks that continued were individual, as Potulny and Irmen both saw their point-scoring skeins hit eight games.
For Wisconsin, there was only one salve.
“The best thing about tonight is that we get to play them again tomorrow,” said Eaves. That game begins at 7:07 p.m. Central time at Mariucci Arena.