MADISON, Wis. — The Minnesota Gophers scored a goal in the first 3:07 of all three periods Saturday night. The Wisconsin Badgers had an answer in the first two periods, but the Gophers won the decisive third, scoring three times en route to a 5-3 victory.
For one reason or another, the Gophers had more jump in the third period. They began the period down 3-2, but for the third time in the game, scored in the opening minutes.
“When we take a look at the big picture, the weekend is broken down into six periods, and the period we were disappointed in was the third period,” UW head coach Mike Eaves said. “We just had people that didn’t perform as well as they needed to.”
Ryan Potulny got things rolling just 2:14 into the third on a rare mistake by Badger goalie Bernd Bruckler.
Bruckler made a save on a shot from the right side of his net. He stuck out his glove in an attempt to grab it, but the puck bounced off the leather to Potulny, who deposited the easy backhand. With that goal, the Gophers grabbed the momentum and did something they could not do in the first two periods — stop the Badgers from retaliating.
The score remained tied until the final minute of regulation, when the Gophers took over.
Barry Tallackson grabbed a loose puck, skated it through the neutral zone and took it one-on-one with Badger Jeff Likens. Tallackson gave Likens a little shove, pressed on towards Bruckler and sneaked the puck through his legs for the game-winner with just 42 ticks left on the clock.
“We played hard all weekend long, and it was great to see one of our seniors, Barry, who’s been fighting to score goals and make plays, score the game winning goal,” Minnesota head coach Don Lucia said.
The Gophers got an empty netter from Andy Sertich 20 seconds later to seal perhaps their biggest win of the season.
“I’m hoping this can be that big win we’ve had every year the last few years on the road against a good team,” Lucia said. “They’re a pretty good team, and we feel good to win the season series.”
“Guys are burning in there. We were 20 minutes away from a great weekend. We’re trying to be a great team, but we’re not there yet,” Wisconsin captain Adam Burish said.
Friday night’s key for the Badgers was to keep the Gophers off the scoreboard in the first period. They had the same intentions Saturday, but were only successful for the first three minutes.
Danny Irmen snapped a one-timer past Bruckler on an early Minnesota power play on a nifty pass from Chris Harrington, giving the Gophers a 1-0 lead just 3:07 into the game.
But while the sold-out Kohl Center fans were shocked, the Badgers shook it off and went right back to work, scoring twice over the next 7:30 to grab a one-goal lead after the first 20 minutes.
Just minutes after Irmen gave Minnesota the lead, UW defenseman and Bloomington, Minn., native Tom Gilbert answered. Ross Carlson slid a centering pass from behind the net which went unrewarded, but Gilbert collected the puck and bounced a wrister through traffic and between Justin Johnson’s legs to tie the game at one goal apiece.
Robbie Earl gave the Badgers the lead at the 10:37 mark with good stickwork. He skated in from Johnson’s right, then pulled the puck back. Dodging the traffic in front of the net, he clipped it through Johnson’s legs while falling to the ice.
It was almost dj vu to begin the second period. The Badgers took a penalty just 1:58 in, the same time that they took the penalty that resulted in the Gopher goal in the first. It would be the same outcome in the second period.
This time, Danny Irmen skated the puck in and found Tyler Hirsch with a pass between the circles. Hirsch skated to Bruckler’s right and the senior netminder lost track of the puck. Hirsch used a backhand shot to loft the puck over Bruckler’s shoulder to tie the game 2-2.
But the Badgers remained resilient and answered again, this time on a power play of their own.
Gilbert got another crack from the point, wristing the puck toward the net where Burish was waiting. The puck glanced off his arm and past Johnson, giving the Badgers the lead once again.
Just minutes later, Lucia would substitute Kellen Briggs in net for Johnson.
Briggs made five saves over the final ten minutes of the period, while Bruckler stopped just six shots in the second, the first period of the weekend in which the Badgers outshot the Gophers.
In the end, the decision to substitute Briggs seemed brilliant. The sophomore made 14 saves in the second half of the game, slamming the door shut on the Badgers’ hopes of a sweep.
“When you go on the road, your goaltenders have to come up with some big saves,” Lucia said.
Briggs came up with the big saves and the Badgers had no answer in the third.
The Badgers’ loss, with Colorado College and Denver victories, leaves them in third place in the WCHA, one point behind Denver with the two teams squaring off next week. However, with Minnesota-Duluth’s loss, the Badgers clinched a home playoff series.
“We don’t have time to feel sorry for ourselves,” Eaves said.
For Minnesota, the win leaves the Gophers four points behind the Badgers in fourth place, but with some momentum heading into the waning weeks of the WCHA. They take on Alaska-Anchorage next weekend.
“We knew going in that this was going to be a huge game for us. And we feel a whole better now. The guys feel good about themselves, about as good as they’ve felt about themselves in a long time,” Lucia said.