MADISON, Wis. — Minnesota’s Danny Irmen killed the Badgers again Friday night.
The junior winger-who has some big goals against UW in his career-netted three more, including the game-winner, in a 5-4 Gopher victory in front of a sold-out Kohl Center crowd.
Irmen put the No. 4 Gophers on top less than two minutes into the game, then in the second period used back-to-back goals just 21 seconds apart to make it a 5-1 game. Though it looked like the rout was on, Irmen’s quick second goal turned out to be the difference-maker as the No. 2 Badgers’ third-period comeback bid fell short.
Wisconsin got three swift goals of its own in the third period and climbed right back into what could have been a blowout, but Minnesota battened down the hatches when it needed to and held on for two crucial WCHA points.
“We did enough we got a very important win tonight coming in here on a Friday night and getting two points,” Minnesota head coach Don Lucia said.
“I’m not going to use that term,” UW head coach Mike Eaves said when asked if there was any moral victory after a strong third frame. “[But] what we did in the third period is what we need to continue to do.”
The Gophers led, 2-1, after a first period that was as close as the score indicated, but it was all Minnesota in the second as it collected the first flurry of goals.
Ryan Stoa put home a clean pass from Mike Howe on a Gopher break and Irmen completed his back-to-back tallies midway through the period as the game quickly changed from a one-goal game to what could have been a rout.
“I give my linemates a lot of credit,” Irmen said.
Already up, 3-1, Irmen took a pass from Potulny up top and fired it through for his second of the evening. The first line stayed out for Minnesota and converted off the ensuing faceoff as Potulny battled for the puck behind the net before finding Irmen out front as the winger completed his hat trick.
“That was the turning point in the game-they scored two goals in one shift,” UW senior captain Adam Burish said. “That was the game right there.”
It was Irmen’s second-career hat trick.
But the Badgers were positive in the locker room between periods and came out resilient.
“One thing we said [in the second intermission] was ‘Every line scores a goal we’re right back in it,’” Burish said.
And Wisconsin got a goal from every line-except its top one. In fact, the Gophers’ top line of Stoa, Potulny and Irmen dominated the game, finishing +13 on the night. Their counterparts – Burish, Robbie Earl and Joe Pavelski – were -9.
“In the last three months, that’s probably the worst it’s been,” Burish said of his line. “We were out there for three goals tonight and that’s not us-especially in a big game.”
“We had to win with Potulny and Irmen and the older guys,” Lucia said. The older guys have to perform in this type of environment. Those are the guys that are supposed to put the team on their back.”
Jack Skille, Nick Licari and Matt Ford all scored for Wisconsin in the first six minutes of the third period, but could not get the equalizer. The Badgers fell short on the comeback, but will have momentum heading into Saturday’s series finale.
“I think if you look at the script of this game, the first period was a mish-mash, the second period they were clearly the dominating team,” UW head coach Mike Eaves. “It’s a difficult thing to do to change the course of your game and [we] did a terrific job.”
After Skille re-stoked the crowd, Licari used a big rebound goal and Ford fired a slapper at Briggs that squeeked its way through the goalie’s pads for the Badgers’ third goal of the young third frame and their second score in 34 seconds.
Briggs, though he allowed four goals, finished with 32 saves on the night. At the other end Connelly stopped 27 shots. He has now given up 10 goals in three games, yet it is hard to say any of the three losses have been his fault.
“He was fine,” Eaves said. “One of the things we did poorly was we tried to play goalie. We were kind of looking for the puck and trying to stop the puck.”
Irmen-or the Irmenator as the Gopher press release dubs him-has done everything to give that nickname credence against the Badgers. He scored a game-winning penalty shot against UW last year and now has seven goals and four assists in 11 career games against Wisconsin.
“I’ve had a lot of success against them,” Irmen said. “It just seems that the puck goes in the net when I play the red and white for some reason.”
“Danny had a great game,” Lucia said. “The top-end guys are supposed to be the one’s delivering. It was a good win.”
Irmen missed nine games earlier this season with a broken finger, but now has 12 goals and 12 assists in 17 games.
With the loss, Wisconsin’s lead in the WCHA-which was at eight points just three games ago-is now down to just two and the Gophers will have a chance to even it up heading down the stretch tomorrow night.