MINNEAPOLIS — Behind a 25-save performance by Kellen Briggs and goals from Alex Goligoski and Jay Barriball, Minnesota held off Wisconsin for a 2-1 series-opening victory Saturday night at Mariucci Arena.
“When you play Wisconsin and [netminder Brian] Elliott, there’s such a small margin,” said Minnesota head coach Don Lucia. “Your goaltender can’t give up any softies.”
Briggs didn’t, making the routine and not-so-routine saves and holding the Badgers scoreless for the first 55 minutes of play while Minnesota (9-1-2, 5-0-2 WCHA) built a two-goal lead.
The second-ranked Golden Gophers were in the driver’s seat from the start, as Goligoski put Minnesota ahead less than three minutes in. But No. 14 Wisconsin (4-7-2, 3-5-1 WCHA) kept it close despite several miscues on puck possession, until Barriball scored early in the third period to give the hosts a little breathing room.
“We knew it was going to be like that,” said Goligoski of the tight, low-scoring affair. “They like to run a sort of NHL-style neutral-zone trap. … We had to be patient because we don’t like to play that way.”
“We turned the puck over way too many times,” said Wisconsin head coach Mike Eaves. “We didn’t take care of the puck, and that’s something that as a young team, we have to get better at.”
Elliott stopped 33 Minnesota shots, including several outstanding saves to keep the Gophers from pulling away.
“We had to rely on Brian too much,” said Eaves.
Early on, with Badger captain Andrew Joudrey off for interference, Goligoski put the Gophers ahead. He took a pass from Mike Howe at the right point and fired a slapshot that got through Elliott at 2:22. The goal was Goligoski’s fourth of the season.
“It was evident that they wanted to dictate things right from the get-go,” said Eaves. “Good for them. That’s what good teams should do, especially in your own barn.”
Wisconsin lost two players to injury during the first period. Left wing Blake Geoffrion got caught in a tangle of bodies near the end boards and hit the back of his head against the wall, and fourth-line center Aaron Bendickson left after his skate went out from underneath him during an attempted check, causing his leg to twist awkwardly.
Neither player returned, forcing Eaves to mix-and-match his lines with 10 forwards.
“I think it helped us, especially in the third period, that Wisconsin was down a couple of forwards,” said Lucia. “Maybe their guys were a little bit tired.”
Midway through the second and still leading 1-0, Minnesota missed a golden opportunity when Elliott left the crease to play a puck behind the net. Kyle Okposo picked it up instead and zipped a pass to Evan Kaufmann, but the puck hopped Kaufmann’s stick.
A string of penalties ultimately put Wisconsin down two men late in the middle frame. Gopher captain Mike Vannelli was whistled for interference, but Davis Drewiske’s slash turned the situation into a four-on-four. Seconds later, Blake Wheeler’s partial breakaway generated two Badger penalties, a hold by Jeff Likens and a crosscheck by Kyle Klubertanz on Ben Gordon.
The Badgers killed the resulting five-on-three, leaving the score 1-0 heading into the second intermission, but Eaves was displeased with his team’s lack of discipline.
“We go from looking like we’re going to be on the power play to being down five-on-three,” said Eaves. “And it was our fault.”
Minnesota finally notched its second goal of the game at 6:06 of the third period. Wheeler intercepted a Wisconsin pass in the neutral zone and led a two-on-one with Barriball, who took Wheeler’s pass and shoveled a backhander past Elliott to make it 2-0. The tally was the rookie’s ninth of the year, tying him with fellow freshman Okposo for the team lead.
After Elliott made a pair of outstanding pad saves on Tony Lucia and Ryan Flynn, Ross Carlson finally got UW on the scoresheet when he fired home the rebound of Jamie McBain’s shot. Carlson’s shot deflected off a Gopher defenseman’s stick and beat Briggs high to the far side, costing him the shutout.
“As long as I get wins, that’s all I care about,” said Briggs.
Carlson’s first goal of the season, which narrowed the gap to 2-1 Minnesota at 15:16, was a bright spot for Wisconsin.
“Hopefully that’ll get him going,” Eaves said of Carlson. “We need that.”
Minnesota and Wisconsin complete the weekend series Sunday at 5 p.m. CT at Mariucci Arena.