MINNEAPOLIS — On Friday night, Wisconsin turned adversity into advantage, scoring a shorthanded goal during a five-minute penalty kill in the first period to seize the momentum en route to a key victory over Minnesota at Mariucci Arena.
Saturday called for another show of the Badgers’ mettle, though the script was different. After UW gave up a two-goal lead in the second period, Jamie McBain — he of Friday’s shorthanded game-changer — scored on the power play for the Badgers to restore the lead. UW added John Mitchell’s second goal of the game in the third period and held off Minnesota for a 5-4 win.
“In any battle, there’s turning points,” said Wisconsin head coach Mike Eaves, whose Badgers earned their first sweep of the Gophers in three years. “In the third period, we played with some maturity. … We did some things with the lead and found a way to win tonight.”
“We had our looks, our chances,” said Minnesota head coach Don Lucia, “but we could never get a lead. We haven’t had a lead in four games.”
The win, combined with Denver’s loss to Minnesota Duluth, tied the Badgers (16-11-3, 13-7-2 WCHA) for first place in the WCHA and completed a remarkable turnaround for a team which began the season 0-6-1.
“It’s satisfying to this point,” Eaves said. “Those young men in that [locker] room — they lived through that tough start. … We went through some tough times early, and we’ve responded.”
For Wisconsin, Shane Connelly stopped 33 shots, and though his performance didn’t match Friday’s 43-save eye-catcher, he was good enough to help the Badgers to their sixth win out of eight WCHA games in 2009.
“You talk to anyone around the league — you come to Mariucci, it’s a big game,” said Connelly. “To come out of here with two wins, it’s definitely sweet.”
After Minnesota’s Cade Fairchild knotted the score at 3 early in the second period, McBain untied it with his second goal of the weekend and seventh of the season. Taking a pass from Jake Gardiner at the point, the alternate captain fired a shot through traffic that Minnesota netminder Alex Kangas (25 saves) never saw until it was behind him, giving the Badgers a 4-3 lead at 9:37.
Midway through the third period, Gardiner saved what looked like a sure Minnesota goal by preventing a shot on a wide-open net, and his teammates took advantage. A Wisconsin shot hit traffic and banged off bodies, skates and sticks until finally banking into the net. The goal, credited to Mitchell, made it 5-3 at 9:48.
The Gophers mounted a charge that included a Tony Lucia goal with four minutes left, but couldn’t tally the equalizer. The loss was their fourth in a row and left them tied for sixth in the league pending the outcome of St. Cloud State’s game at Alaska-Anchorage.
Asked what Minnesota (12-9-5, 9-8-3 WCHA) has to do to stanch the bleeding, Lucia’s answer was straightforward.
“I just told them that we have to put an end to losing,” he said. “At some point, you have to draw a line in the sand and say, ‘Enough is enough.’”
Early on, McBain got the Badgers started. The nation’s scoring leader among defensemen fired a low-angle shot, and Mitchell swept in and gave the puck a shove as Kangas fell backwards into his net. The goal, Mitchell’s 12th of the season, gave the Badgers a 1-0 lead at 5:32.
Unlike Friday, the Gophers quickly answered. Ryan Flynn collected the puck behind the net and sent through the crease to captain Ryan Stoa, who deflected the puck home for his 16th goal of the season and a 1-1 tie at 8:51.
At 16:06, an apparent second goal for Wisconsin was waved off. Coming up the left side, Ben Grotting fired on net and went in after it. Grotting and Minnesota’s Kevin Wehrs plowed into the net, followed two seconds later by the puck, off the stick of Aaron Bendickson. A goal was signaled on the ice, but after video review it was nullified.
“They [the officials] just felt that [Grotting's] momentum was carrying him into the goalie, that he wasn’t pushed,” said Eaves. “We could have sulked or put our heads down, but instead we came out with energy and got a goal pretty quickly.”
That the Badgers did, less than two minutes later. Derek Stepan led a three-on-two up the left side and fed McBain, who passed to Jordy Murray. The freshman winger slipped the puck inside the right post to make it 2-1 Badgers at 18:01.
UW extended the lead to 3-1 at 3:08 of the second period on Sean Dolan’s fourth goal of 2008-09. Cody Goloubef provided the impetus with a shot from the right point that grazed Dolan and ended up in the far side of the net.
Three minutes later, Flynn gave the Gophers life with a shorthanded goal. The junior winger did almost all the work himself, leading a two-on-one and depositing the puck for a 3-2 score.
Mitchell then went off for slashing and it took the Gophers five seconds to capitalize. Off the faceoff, Jay Barriball picked up the loose puck and hit Fairchild with a cross-ice pass. Fairchild’s one-time laser beat Connelly cleanly, giving Minnesota a 3-3 tie at 7:56, but McBain’s answer soon followed.
“It’s frustrating because the last three games we’ve lost by one goal, one goal, one goal,” said Lucia. “We’ve got to get over the top.”
Next weekend, Wisconsin is off before hitting the WCHA homestretch, while Minnesota stays home to host Alaska-Anchorage. Though the bye seems to come at an inopportune time for the Badgers, Connelly was glad to have a break occur under positive conditions.
“Everyone’s going to be a little bit happier that we don’t have to fret over a loss,” he said.