MINNEAPOLIS — Friday, the Wisconsin Badgers got a monkey off their backs at Mariucci Arena. On Saturday, the Badgers drop-kicked the monkey into the next county.
Displaying its smothering defense to fullest advantage, the Badgers stifled Minnesota’s high-octane offense in a dominating 4-0 win to complete a road sweep.
The shutout, anchored by goaltender Brian Elliott’s 32 saves, extended Wisconsin’s unbeaten streak to 14 games, one short of the school record set in 2003-04, and gave the Badgers two straight wins in a building where they had gone winless in their previous 10 contests.
“The feeling right now is happiness for our seniors,” said UW head coach Mike Eaves. “It was great for [them] to end their careers in this building on such a good note.”
Wisconsin took control early with a pair of first-period goals, the second one coming from junior winger Ross Carlson. That put the Badgers firmly in the driver’s seat, and they never relented.
“Huge accomplishment for us, as a team and as a group of guys,” said Carlson, who had an assist to go along with his goal. “We were lucky to get a couple by [Gopher netminder Jeff] Frazee early, and then we just kept rolling.”
The offense was a team affair for Wisconsin, with four different goal-scorers and no single player accumulating more than two points on the evening. Carlson, Jake Dowell and Joe Piskula each tallied a goal and an assist.
The victory also kept Wisconsin (13-1-2, 10-0-2 WCHA) without a loss in conference play and extended the Badgers’ lead in the WCHA standings to eight points over second-place Minnesota (7-5-4, 6-4-2 WCHA), pending the outcome of Saturday’s Colorado College-Denver contest.
For the Gophers, meanwhile, a slow start led to a quiet crowd and a lackluster performance in which the hosts never really seemed able to get going. Minnesota was shut out at home for the first time since a 5-0 loss to St. Cloud State on March 3, 2000.
“We knew going in that if you’re going to win, you’ve got to win a low-scoring game,” said Minnesota head coach Don Lucia. “Our goaltending didn’t match up to Elliott.”
Midway through the opening frame, Wisconsin got on the board on a nifty display of passing, with Dowell finally getting the goal. Off a cross-crease feed from Ryan MacMurchy, Dowell leaned out and potted his third of the year at 8:52.
The Gophers’ best chance came minutes later, but Elliott turned away Ryan Potulny on a point-blank attempt with a scintillating glove save.
“[Potulny] cut across on me and I just made a desperation save and got a glove on it,” said Elliott, who then took himself to task for being out of position despite making the highlight-reel stop.
“It could have been 1-1, but that’s what great goaltenders do,” said Lucia. “They make the timely save.”
Carlson’s goal, at 19:20 of the first, was the byproduct of effort and a bit of good fortune for Wisconsin. Nick Licari’s shot from short range was blocked, but the puck bounced straight out to Carlson in the slot, and he unleashed a 20-foot blast through traffic that Frazee had no chance to stop.
A power-play goal midway through the second period seemed to thoroughly deflate the Gophers. Seven seconds after an Andy Sertich high-stick, defenseman Kyle Klubertanz made it a 3-0 UW lead by snapping off a high shot that eluded Frazee’s blocker at 8:55.
Piskula then picked up the fourth Badger goal at 18:30 of the second off a harmless-looking shot from the left faceoff dot that somehow got under an upright Frazee and rolled across the line before the netminder could fall on it.
That goal shortly spelled the end of the evening for Frazee, who made 16 saves on 20 shots in 40 minutes of play. Kellen Briggs was inserted to start the third period, escaping unscathed while making eight saves.
The Gopher offense picked up in the third period, generating 17 shots on goal and controlling most of the flow, but Elliott and the Badger defense held firm to preserve the shutout.
Neither power play was particularly effective, though Wisconsin scarcely needed the offensive help. The Badgers were 1-for-8 with the man-advantage, Minnesota 0-for-7.
Referee Scott Zelkin left the game with two minutes left in the third period after getting hit under the eye by Kris Chucko’s stick as the Minnesota forward pursued a check along the far boards. The game was completed with assistant referees J.B. Olsen and Brad Shepherd as the two officials on the ice.
Next up for Wisconsin is a home series against Michigan Tech next Friday and Saturday. Minnesota, meanwhile, will undergo another key WCHA test, heading to Grand Forks for a pair at North Dakota.