MADISON, Wis. — Senior tri-captain Blake Geoffrion was a first-hand witness to how a quick goal off the opening face-off can dramatically affect the final 59 minutes of a Wisconsin-Minnesota rivalry game.
After former Gopher Ryan Stoa scored six seconds into a game last October, killing the Kohl Centers momentum in a 5-2 Gopher romp, Geoffrion made sure it was Wisconsins turn to deliver the decisive
UWs leading scorer added to his total Friday, scoring the first of his two important goals just 24 seconds into the first period, pushing No.18 Wisconsin to a 4-2 victory over Minnesota in front of 12,508 fans.
I was even a little nervous before the game for some reason, Geoffrion said. I had little butterflies and I could see it in the room before the game. Its a big rivalry and to get that first goal, everyone relaxes a little bit.
Ironically, both goals for Geoffrion, his fourth and fifth of the year, were his two at even strength, but theres no denying the fact how important they were in the grand scheme of things for Wisconsin (4-2-1 overall, 2-2-1 in the WCHA).
His first tally occurred when he deflected a Ryan McDonagh slapshot that bounced past goalie Alex Kangas (28 saves) to begin the game, while his second — with UW up 2-1 — proved to be the game winner, as Geoffrion received a cross-ice pass between two defenders from
freshman Craig Smith and unleashed a shot from the left circle that couldnt be stopped by Kangas.
Smith — who missed both games last weekend after serving a two game suspension for a reckless checking from behind penalty against Minnesota State — was elevated to the top line for the first time after replacing a struggling Patrick Johnson.
The results were two assists and gushing smiles from the Nashville Predators, as the NHL franchise own the draft rights to both young forwards.
Coming back and playing with two seniors (Geoffrion and Andy Bohmbach) was a lot of fun, Smith said. (They) are great players to play with.
Minnesotas struggling offense wasnt given much favors. With the Gophers (2-4-1, 2-4-1) attempting 30 or fewer shots four times this season, Minnesota managed to get only 18 shots on junior goalie Brett Bennett (16 saves) while UW was credited with 30 blocked shots, a season high.
Coach Osiecki made a living doing that in the college and pro level, UW coach Mike Eaves said of Mark Osiecki. He demands that out of them. Derek Stepan blocked a shot late in the game with his facemask. Put a big old dent in it. When he came back to the bench, the guys
were patting him on the back because they know its an important part of the game.
Wisconsin did have its chances to put the Gophers in an even deeper hole in the first period up 1-0, but Smith misfired high on a breakaway attempt and center Derek Stepan couldnt successfully knock the puck out of mid-air into a wide-open net on a UW power play.
Those missed chanced looked like it was going to cost UW, especially after a turnover led to Minnesotas tying goal early in the second period.
After UW forward Jordy Murray made the wrong decision in playing the puck instead of backchecking, causing a 3-on-1 attack for Minnesota, center Jordan Schroeder skated up the right boards, drew Bennett over before passing to Mike Hoeffel, who had an easy tap in on
a wide open net to tie the score at 1:31.
As quickly as Minnesota had momentum off the turnover, the Gophers gave it all back 43 seconds later. With the puck deep in the Minnesota zone, center Patrick White bobbled the puck, allowing Cody Goloubef to scoop it up and backhand the puck on Kangas glove side.
I was just trying to keep the puck in and I got a lucky stick in, Goloubef said. I was fortunate that it squeaked through. It really brought the energy back in the building. The fans didnt have much time to get down.
Wisconsin was on cruise control until Minnesota broke through on the power play at 8:47 in the third.
Coming into the series 1-for-29 on the man advantage, a shot from the right circle by captain Tony Lucia was deflected in front of the net, where White was credited for knocking in the rebound with five seconds left on the power play.
But just like the response after the Gophers first goal, the Badgers had an answer, as senior tri-captain Ben Street flicked in a perfect pass from senior right winger Michael Davies past Kangas with 1:52 remaining left to stop any hope of a comeback.
We didnt have our legs tonight as much as weve had in the past, Geoffrion said. The third period is always Wisconsins third period. I think that was a big one for us because it made it more relaxed.
The Gophers now find themselves in a precarious situation. Already forced to play the rest of the season without senior forward Jay Barriball, who will have season-ending surgery to repair a knee injury suffered in practice on Tuesday, Minnesota must find a way to drum up some momentum, or risk being swept on the road by its border rivals for the first time since 1999.
We didnt get much of an offensive forecheck and didnt get to run some of our offense, junior Mike Hoeffel said. It really didnt help the cause to get any goals going. The just played smarter with the puck and made good decisions.