With Zach Budish searching for his first goal this season, Gophers coach Don Lucia looked to ignite his captain Friday night by reuniting him with last season's linemates -- Kyle Rau and Nick Bjugstad.
For one night, mission accomplished. Budish scored the game-winning goal and screened the Minnesota State Mankato goalie on another goal as the Gophers opened a two-game series with a hard-fought, 3-2 win over their in-state rival at Mariucci Arena.
The No. 2-ranked Gophers (5-1, 2-1 WCHA) scored three power-play goals with defenseman Nate Schmidt scoring a goal and adding an assist, Travis Boyd scoring once and Rau assisting on two goals. Freshman Adam Wilcox made 23 saves to possibly earn a second consecutive start Saturday in Mankato.
"We had to work for it tonight," Lucia said.
Zach Palmquist, Wilcox's former teammate at South St. Paul High, and Teddy Blueger scored for the Mavericks, while senior Phil Cook was outstanding with 29 saves. He was peppered on the power play (nine shots), with the Gophers absorbing Lucia's weeklong plea for more shots.
The Mavericks have given up 11 goals on their opponent's 34 power plays this season. "We've got to find a way to kill a penalty," Mavericks coach Mike Hastings said.
One reason for Friday's trouble was the Gophers' net-front presence. Seth Ambroz screened Cook on Boyd's tying goal in the first period, then Budish parked in front to help Schmidt's rising howitzer get through to tie the score in the second.
"That was a once-in-a-while shot," Schmidt said. "I got a hold of it pretty good. Doesn't always happen that way. It went in before the goalie even knew because Zach did such a fantastic job getting his big butt in front of the net."
The 6-3, 214-pound Budish had four assists during the opening weekend sweep against Michigan State but was shut out the past three games. He said he has gotten a lot of video tutorials the past few weeks.
"I haven't played my best hockey the first six games," Budish said.
So Friday, Lucia reunited last season's first line because "we had to get Budy going."
The first three weekends, Budish had been on the second line with last season's leading scorer, Erik Haula. But Christian Isackson, who has tailed off since a hat trick in an exhibition game and solid opening weekend, was moved to the second line Friday.
Schmidt said moving Budish back to the first line "rekindled that chemistry they had last year. You could definitely tell he was a lot more comfortable on the ice. He had a lot of unheralded play down low. When he works those D ...it wears those guys down. It takes a toll, it really does. As a defenseman, I know, I hate it."
That's how Budish scored the go-ahead goal -- the 22nd of his career. Schmidt fired at the net as Budish crashed. Rau banged at the rebound. Cook made that save, but Budish whacked at the loose puck for a 3-2 Gophers lead 5:40 into the period.
Then, like he did in last Sunday's 1-0 win over Canisius, Wilcox came through late in the clutch. He made two big saves to rob Johnny McInnis.
The Mavericks gave the Gophers a test, coming out skating and hitting. But in the end, they fell to 0-3 in the WCHA.
"Tonight was a step in the compete end, but in the end, it's about wins and losses," Hastings said.