MADISON, WIS.--As they prepared for Friday’s game at No. 18 Wisconsin, the Gophers understood three things. They would have to be patient, they would need outstanding special-teams play and they anticipated a low-scoring game at Kohl Center.
Things played out just as they expected, and their ability to carry out their plan gave them a 3-2 victory that pushed them into a tie for second place in the WCHA standings. The No. 2 Gophers (20-5-4, 12-5-4 WCHA) scored on three of four power-play opportunities and killed the only penalty they committed as they rallied from an early 1-0 deficit. Sam Warning, Nick Bjugstad and Seth Ambroz netted the Gophers’ goals, and goaltender Adam Wilcox stopped 28 shots.
The Badgers (12-10-7, 9-7-7 WCHA) struck first, as Nick Kerdiles swatted Mark Zengerle’s backdoor pass into the open right side of the net at 14 minutes, 37 seconds of the first period. The Gophers--who outshot Wisconsin 20-9 in the first 20 minutes--countered with a power-play goal by Warning with 1:09 remaining until the intermission.
Twin penalties to Wisconsin’s Joseph LaBate, for tripping and hooking, put the Gophers on the power play for four minutes late in the second period. After nearly squandering the opportunity, they grabbed their first lead of the game on Bjugstad’s one-timer with 1:48 remaining in the period.
Ambroz pushed a rebound past Wisconsin goaltender Joel Rumpel in the waning seconds of a power play at 12:48 of the third.
The series concludes Sunday at the Hockey City Classic in Chicago, where the Gophers and Badgers will play outdoors at Soldier Field.
With all the hype surrounding Sunday’s outdoor game--and an opportunity to gain ground in the WCHA standings with St. Cloud State and North Dakota idle this weekend--Lucia had stressed the need for the Gophers to be sharp Friday. They fell behind in the first period but stormed back, controlling play for the final five minutes and tying the score.
The Badgers got a handful of great scoring chances early, including three by the speedy Zengerle. Wilcox stopped each of his shots, but he had no chance on Zengerle’s beautiful backdoor pass.
Zengerle got the puck under the left circle and lured Wilcox toward him, with two Gophers defenders following suit. He passed to Kerdiles--who was all alone at the bottom of the right circle--and Kerdiles put the puck into a wide-open net.
That woke up the Gophers, who held the Badgers without another shot on goal the rest of the period. They got eight themselves over the final five minutes and tied the score on a power play at 18:51. Rumpel blocked Ben Marshall’s shot from the left circle, but the puck banged off his pad and went directly to Warning, who flung it into the open right side of the net.
With five minutes remaining in the second, the Gophers got an extended possession and hit Rumpel with three quick shots. It ended when LaBate was penalized for tripping and hooking Kyle Rau.
The power play did not begin well for the Gophers; the energized Badgers repeatedly knocked the puck away from them, getting two shots on goal before the Gophers got their first.
With only 34 seconds remaining in the power play, the Gophers finally connected on Bjugstad’s rocket from the left circle at 18:12 for a 2-1 lead. Their penalty kill was masterful when they finally were called for their first penalty early in the third period, allowing the Badgers only one shot.