MADISON, Wis. — Mike Eaves had remained steadfast that, despite the Badgers sub-.500 record, Wisconsin was slowly turning its ship around. With the top-ranked and border rival Minnesota in town, equipped with the league’s top scoring offense, the Badgers would need a supreme effort to stop the streaking Gophers.
Thanks to senior Ross Carlson, Wisconsin got just what it needed.
Carlson scored his second of two goals on a 5-on-3 power play early in the third period to lift Wisconsin (10-11-2, 7-7-1 WCHA) over No. 1 Minnesota (19-2-3, 11-1-3 WCHA), 2-1, Friday night at the Kohl Center, ending the Gophers 22-game unbeaten streak.
“We knew it was an important game to get us back on the right track,” UW goalie Brian Elliott said. “To end a streak like theirs and feel good about the way we are playing helps us gain some confidence. We haven’t had a Friday night win in a while.”
With the score deadlocked at one heading into the final period, the Badgers found themselves with a golden opportunity, as Minnesota committed back-to-back penalties within a span of 14 seconds. With two Gophers in the box, Carlson took a cross-ice pass from senior Andrew Joudrey and flicked the puck past Minnesota goalie Kellen Briggs to give the Badgers the lead for good.
“The 5-on-3 was the turning point of the game,” Minnesota head coach Don Lucia said. “Those were easy [penalties] to call.”
Carlson, who had missed seven games due to injury in the first half of the season, continued his impressive play since returning to the lineup in early November. After collecting his first career four-point game at North Dakota, Carlson continued tormenting his home-state team, catching Briggs out of position on both of his scores.
“He’s got that ability to be a difference maker in a game with his shot and the way he plays,” UW head coach Mike Eaves said. “His shot is one of the best on the team. When he shoots, he has got that magic. He came up huge for us tonight.”
With over 17 minutes left in the game, there weren’t many in the sellout crowd of 15,237 who thought the Gophers were done scoring for the night, especially with Minnesota having four of the top 10 scorers on the ice.
But for the second consecutive game – coming on the heels of a road shutout at Denver last Saturday – Wisconsin’s defense looked like last year’s squad, which beat Minnesota three out of five times on the basis of solid defense and goaltending. The Badgers blocked 20 Gopher shots on Friday night, their second-highest block total of the year.
Even the shots that managed to get through the defense didn’t fare much better, as Brian Elliott stopped 18 of the 19 shots he faced. Minnesota’s 19 shots were its lowest shot output of the season.
“We took to our old form from last year,” UW defensivemen Matt Olinger said. “Defense is a big part of this team. If we don’t play well, we’re not going to have much of a chance to win.”
“You look at your defensive core and [good defense] doesn’t happen by just one guy doing it,” Eaves added. “It happens with five guys playing together out there and they did that tonight.”
The one shot that did get by Elliott marked the first collegiate goal by freshman Brian Schack. Forced to vacate his defenseman status and dress as a forward because of injuries, Schack beat Elliott five-hole to give Minnesota the early lead.
Trailing by one in the second period, Wisconsin orchestrated a beautiful give-and-go passing play orchestrated by Carlson and sophomore Jack Skille. Receiving the pass from senior Jake Dowell, Carlson skated right at Briggs before dumping the pass off to Skille along the left boards.
Skille faked the shot on Briggs, forcing the goalie to commit to the attempt, before sliding the puck back to Carlson, who had a wide-open net to tie the game, setting the stage for his game winning goal in the third.
“We needed the older guys to make that key play and their senior made the key plays by scoring two goals,” Lucia said.
Not only did the loss end the nation-best and school-record 22-game unbeaten streak for the Gophers, it also marked the end of a 21-game road unbeaten streak and freshman Kyle Okposo’s 13-game point streak, as he was held to three shots on the evening by the Badger defense.
According to Schack, now that the streak is over, Minnesota can focus on just playing hockey and coming out Saturday in hopes of a split.
“We’re not even thinking about [the streak any more],” Schack said. “We’re just looking to come out and get a win tomorrow. We were going to lose eventually.”
Moreover, the win was also significant for the Badgers, as it marked the 1,000th win in their history and improved Wisconsin to 5-0-1 against top-ranked teams at home under Mike Eaves. While the program milestone is important, Eaves hoped the game signified another step in the right direction, as the Badgers proclaimed that the national title is still theirs to defend.
“The win gives us the confident feeling that we can beat some of the best teams in the country,” Eaves said. “Every game becomes the most important game of the year and tonight was just that for us. It’s an important win and it would be nice if that starts us off as we continue down the back stretch.”