MINNEAPOLIS — Puck luck, funny bounces, the phase of the moon. Whatever the reason, it made for an entertaining, high-octane matchup that gave way to a fitting finish as Wisconsin and Minnesota skated to a 4-4 draw Saturday at Mariucci Arena.
The Badgers never led but answered every Minnesota goal, and seemed to get stronger as the evening progressed, while Minnesota enjoyed another offensive outburst in a season mostly lacking for goals. Under the circumstances, neither coach could be upset with the outcome, though each hoped for more.
“At this time of year, it’s about getting points,” said UW head coach Mike Eaves. “That’s a point that could make a difference for us down the road.”
Goaltenders Shane Connelly and Alex Kangas had up-and-down performances as the puck rattled strangely around in both ends.
“I think one of their [goals] went off one of our guys and one of ours went off one of their guys, so it was just one of those games,” said Minnesota head coach Don Lucia, whose Gophers scored four goals in consecutive games after going eight straight contents without more than two.
“Connelly made some saves, and at times he would have liked to have some of those back,” said Eaves. “But it was the same both ways.”
Four minutes into the third period with the score tied at 3, the Gophers struck on the power play for the second time as Jay Barriball netted his second goal of the weekend and fifth of the year. Minnesota blueliner Cade Fairchild intercepted an attempted clear to find Barriball alongside the net, and the sophomore lifted a backhander over Connelly’s shoulder to put the hosts up 4-3 at 4:14.
“We’re just trying to get the puck on the net,” said Barriball. “Dirty goals are good goals on the power play, and we try not to get too cute with the puck.”
But Wisconsin applied furious pressure as the period wound down, earning the Badgers the tie at 14:58. Freshman winger Patrick Johnson scored his eighth goal, intercepting a Minnesota clearing attempt at the point and beating Kangas with a shot that bounced through the five-hole as the netminder couldn’t quite get down in time.
That was the final goal of the game, though each team had another power play. Wisconsin had its opportunity after a Blake Wheeler hold in regulation, and Minnesota got a last chance with 26 seconds left in OT when Blake Geoffrion was sent off for unsportsmanlike conduct. Neither converted, sealing the tie.
“It was back-and-forth all night,” said Johnson. “It’s always going to be a good game when it’s Minnesota and Wisconsin.”
Early on, Patrick White gave Minnesota the lead at 8:04 of the first period with his fifth goal of the season, firing a shot that knuckled past Connelly when White hit the stick of UW defender Cody Goloubef on his follow-through.
The Badgers evened it up on a miscue at 15:52. Left wing John Mitchell skated up the left side and let go a harmless-looking wrister, but the puck bounced off Kangas’ glove and into the net to knot the score at 1.
Evan Kaufmann returned the lead to the Gophers just over a minute later. Operating from the top of the right circle, the senior center fired a pinpoint slapshot against the grain that beat Connelly just inside the left post.
Whistles against Minnesota’s Mike Hoeffel and Derek Peltier put Wisconsin on a five-on-three to open the second period, and after the expiration of the first penalty, the Badgers struck to tie the game once more. Geoffrion sparked the play, dislodging the puck with a bruising check along the boards, and Michael Davies did the honors, unleashing a shot that hit a Minnesota stick on its way to the back of the net at 1:41.
A trip by UW’s Josh Engel put Minnesota on its third power play of the evening, and the Gophers continued their good work on the man-advantage. Taking a pass from Barriball, Ben Gordon hammered a one-timer on net that skidded past a sliding Connelly at 10:57 to give Minnesota a 3-2 edge.
Shortly thereafter, Minnesota put on an inspired penalty kill to energize the home crowd (“That was the loudest I’ve heard this building the whole season,” said Barriball), but the Badgers took advantage of their next opportunity. Podge Turnbull scored at 15:33 on another odd play, a shot from the left side that sneaked between an upright Kangas — who did not appear to see the puck — and the post.
For the evening, Wisconsin outshot Minnesota 41-32, including a 14-8 advantage in the third period. Minnesota was 2-for-5 on the power play, Wisconsin 1-for-7.
Wisconsin (14-13-7, 10-11-5 WCHA) remained in fourth place in the league standings, but most of the league has two games in hand on the Badgers with two weeks remaining. Minnesota (13-13-8, 7-11-6), meanwhile, sits in eighth place but is starting to creep upward. Both teams are tied for 14th in the all-important PairWise Rankings, which mimic the selection process for the NCAA tournament.
The Golden Gophers next hit the road for a series at Alaska-Anchorage, while the Badgers travel to St. Cloud before having the last weekend of the regular season off.