MINNEAPOLIS — One night after his penalty-shot heroics helped beat Wisconsin, Danny Irmen again provided the offensive firepower for Minnesota, scoring two goals to lead the Gophers to a series sweep.
Minnesota claimed a 4-2 win Saturday before a record crowd of 10,587 at Mariucci Arena, dominating the first two periods, then holding off mounting pressure from Wisconsin in the third.
The win for the Gophers (7-2-0, 5-1-0 WCHA) was their fifth straight overall and 15th consecutive at home, setting a new school record for a home unbeaten streak. It also guaranteed Minnesota sole possession of the WCHA lead for the coming week after Minnesota-Duluth’s loss at Anchorage.
“I’m just really happy for our kids,” said Minnesota head coach Don Lucia.
Irmen’s second goal of the game turned out to be the backbreaker. With Minnesota already up 3-1 and a power play just over, Tyler Hirsch found Irmen across the circles on a two-on-one. Irmen one-timed a shot inside the near post for his sixth of the season, at 9:27 of the second period.
“I think tonight I was just in the right place at the right time for both goals,” said Irmen. “I just read and react.”
“Danny, he had to play behind some guys last year, and this year he gets a more front-and-center role,” said Lucia. “He’s ready for that.”
Late in the second, Badger freshman Joe Pavelski’s centering pass found John Funk cutting across the high slot, and his shot inside the near post narrowed the lead to 4-2 at 18:11.
Minnesota went dormant on offense in the third period, but Wisconsin (5-3-0, 3-3-0 WCHA) couldn’t make up the difference despite ratcheting up its aggressiveness, and lost its third straight game after a perfect start.
“We got a little mentally tired in the third period, as young teams are going to do, but that’s what you have a goaltender for,” said Lucia. Kellen Briggs stopped 12 Wisconsin shots on goal in the last frame to keep the Badgers off the scoreboard late.
“As the game went on, we got stronger,” said Wisconsin bench boss Mike Eaves. “We got ourselves into too big a hole to get out of, but we didn’t quit. … We showed our character.”
Minnesota put Wisconsin in that hole early in the game. Minutes into the first period, an obstruction-holding call against Badger blueliner Davis Drewiske gave Minnesota a power play, and Irmen converted.
Hirsch redirected a Chris Harrington point shot that Bernd Bruckler saved, but Irmen was there to backhand the rebound past Bruckler’s right side at 3:25.
The Gophers doubled the lead at 6:35. Snappy passing in the offensive zone led to the goal, as Barry Tallackson went cross-ice for Gino Guyer, who waited to find freshman defenseman Derek Peltier in the circle to Bruckler’s right. With the netminder screened, Peltier’s 15-foot wrister got through to make it 2-0 Gophers.
“I waited and waited, and saw Peltier out of the corner of my eye,” said Guyer. “He made a great shot.”
Matters went from bad to worse for Wisconsin later in the period. Ryan MacMurchy went off for boarding at 11:49, followed by two Gophers and two Badgers after an altercation in front of the UW net. The Badger side of the penalty box reached capacity moments later, as Kyle Klubertanz joined his mates after a slash.
On the resulting five-on-three, Minnesota extended the lead to 3-0. Guyer earned the goal, his second in two games, by one-timing Tallackson’s pass from below the blue line into the far side of the net at 13:36.
After going dark offensively for 15 minutes — the Badgers couldn’t muster a shot on net over that period — Wisconsin picked up its first goal on the power play. Ross Carlson’s slapper from just above the circles clipped Briggs’ arm and went in, making the score 3-1 at 16:30 of the first.
A hook against Peter Kennedy put Wisconsin right back on the power play, but the Gophers held the Badgers off the board thanks to a toe stop from Briggs (23 saves), who denied Jake Dowell on a wrister from the left circle with a minute left in the period.
After Irmen’s second goal, Bruckler (25 saves) kept it from getting worse for Wisconsin late in the second, blocking down Garrett Smaagaard’s point-blank redirection attempt and fending off Guyer’s two-on-one wrister. But the gap was already too great.
“Being so young, we’ll take the lessons,” said Eaves. “We measured up against a pretty good team.”
Minnesota, meanwhile, continued to impress with a young team, which might have been expected to struggle early after hefty offseason losses.
“We’re putting those points in the bank right now,” said Lucia.
Minnesota next gets a week off before visiting Denver on Nov. 19 and 20. Wisconsin hosts North Dakota next weekend.