Madison, Wis. – The Gophers' chances of getting an at-large bid to the NCAA women's hockey tournament took another blow on Friday night.
Badly needing a win over No. 1-ranked Wisconsin, Minnesota took a two-goal lead twice but eventually squandered it and lost 4-3 to the WCHA regular-season champions. It was the Badgers' sixth consecutive victory over their border rival.
"Disappointed with the result," Gophers coach Brad Frost said. "I felt like in the first period there, we were able to generate some things offensively. We were up on our toes on our forecheck.
"Second period, to Wisconsin's credit, they found a way to close the gap there and close the lead. In the third, we had a couple of chances, but again the No. 1 team in the country did a nice job of coming back in front of their home crowd and finding a way to win."
The game was played before a sellout crowd of 2,273 at LaBahn Arena, where the Badgers are unbeaten in their past 25 games.
Claudia Kepler's second goal of the game for the Badgers — and team-high 20th of the season — broke a 3-all tie with just under six minutes in the third.
"After that last goal, I just thought about how I was really proud of our team," said Kepler, a 5-4 senior forward and the team captain. "The way we fought. The way we battled."
"[Kepler] can shoot, she has a crazy shot," teammate Sam Cogan said. "If I was a goalie, I would not want to stand in front of that shot ever. She's a great player, and it showed tonight."
Senior defenseman Sydney Baldwin gave the seventh-ranked Gophers (20-9-3, 13-7-3 WCHA) a 2-0 lead with goals just over three minutes apart in the middle of the opening period.
Cogan cut the lead to 2-1 at 2:03 of the second, but just 1:31 later, freshman forward Grace Zumwinkle got her 14th goal to restore Minnesota's two-goal margin.
Cogan answered with her second goal in the 14th minute of the second period and teammate Claudia Kepler tied the score at 3-all just 32 seconds into the third on a power play. Baldwin was called for checking in the last minute of the middle period and the penalty carried over into the next period.
"That was super satisfying," Cogan said. "Coming back from a 3-1 deficit is great for out team because now we know, if we ever find ourselves in that situation again, we can definitely come back."
Sidney Peters had 34 saves for the Gophers in their third one-goal loss of the season to Wisconsin, one of the losses came in overtime; Kristen Campbell stopped 12 shots for the Badgers (28-3-2, 19-2-2-2). Minnesota was held to a season-low 15 shots.
"The nice thing about where we are right now is that we are at home," Badgers coach Mark Johnson said. "This season is a long grind and the kids knew we were going to play in front of a sellout home crowd playing against Minnesota."
The second game of the series will be at 3 p.m. Saturday. It also will be the Badgers' Senior Day. They have three of them.
"We will regroup and figure it out [Saturday]," Frost said.
At least he hopes so.
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