MADISON, Wis. — After being outskated and outperformed and losing their 22-game unbeaten streak a night earlier, the No. 1 Minnesota Golden Gophers were unwilling to start a streak of another kind.
Minnesota (20-2-3, 12-1-3 WCHA) avenged its third period collapse from the night before and led the entire game against archrival Wisconsin (10-12-2, 7-8-1 WCHA), shutting out the Badgers 1-0 to earn a split in the series.
“All weekend long, it was a hard-fought series and a split is a just outcome for the weekend,” said Minnesota head coach Don Lucia.
For the second consecutive night, Minnesota was able to sneak a puck past Brian Elliott in the early going.
After Minnesota got Kyle Okposo back from an elbowing penalty, freshman Jim O’Brien fired a shot from the point that beat Elliott for the game’s opening and only goal. Elliott had little chance of stopping the puck, as he was screened by two of his own defenders and O’Brien placed the puck in the perfect spot.
Unlike the night before, when Wisconsin scored two unanswered goals to earn the victory, Minnesota held its ground.
In fact, Saturday’s game was a mirror image of the night before, when the Gophers struggled in all facets. While Wisconsin was the more aggressive and determined team on Friday, Minnesota dictated the pace of play in the series finale by being more aggressive on the boards and to the puck.
“We played harder, more physical and did better on the faceoff,” Lucia said. “I thought we played tentative last night. We seemed to play more to our style and the first five minutes set the tone for the rest of the game.”
Though Wisconsin knew Minnesota was going to bring its ‘A’ game after losing the night before, the Badgers still came out flat and remained flatlined for the majority of the contest.
“It was disappointing the way we came out,” UW head coach Mike Eaves said. “Guys were saying they we’re ready to go and Minnesota [still] took it to us. I thought we started clicking midway through the game [but] as much as I can applaud their effort in the second half of the game, I can equally say how disappointed I was we came out that way.”
Minnesota also shut down Wisconsin’s power play. A night after giving up two power-play goals, Minnesota made the Badgers put up a goose egg in four tries.
The power play was so out of sync for Wisconsin that Eaves put out his third line on the third power-play attempt, a line that included two defensemen with no career goals, in hopes of jumpstarting the offense.
The move didn’t work, as Wisconsin only managed four power-play shots, while Minnesota had two legitimate chances at shorthanded goals.
“As good as our power play has been the last three games, it took away energy from us,” Eaves said. “We didn’t work hard [on the power play], didn’t support the puck, didn’t win battles and Minnesota was more aggressive.”
After Kellen Briggs struggled in net Friday, Minnesota turned to sophomore Jeff Frazee between the pipes and he turned in a beauty. In his first game back from the World Junior Championship, where he posted a 4-1 record and a 1.77 GAA, Frazee didn’t miss a beat, stopping all 30 Wisconsin shots en route to his ninth win of the season.
“I thought I played on the top of my game [in Sweden] and definitely think it carried over to this game,” Frazee said. “It definitely felt good to get back on the ice.”
One of the few things that clicked for Wisconsin on Saturday was the continued resurrection of Hobey Baker finalist Elliott. After stopping 18 shots Friday, Elliott stopped 24 Saturday. In what has been an uncharacteristic season for the senior netminder (2.28 GAA and .919 save percentage), Elliott has returned to form with a 1.67 GAA and .939 save percentage over his last six conference games.
“[Brian] played awesome this weekend,” defenseman Kyle Klubertanz said. “He held us in this game for sure. It wouldn’t have been a 1-0 game without him. We just have to help him out and get him some offense, whether it is an ugly goal or whatever. We need to help him out.”
Although they only scored two goals in the series after coming in averaging over four per game, the Gophers recovered from having their winning streak snapped and once again earn a big win after a loss.
“It was a big statement game for us as a team and we came out playing well,” Frazee said.
While the Badgers have next weekend off, the Gophers return home to begin a four-game WCHA homestand, with their first opponent being No. 7 Denver in a Friday-Saturday series.