MADISON, Wis. – The Gophers exhaled in relief as the buzzer boomed at the completion of overtime on Saturday night at Kohl Center.
A shootout loss would follow, but more importantly they had avoided another loss in their attempt at repairing a disappointing season. The Gophers have to be content with a 4-4 tie against Wisconsin, the alternative would have done significant damage to their confidence. The 3-2 shootout loss cost them only a point in the Big Ten standings.
Instead, the Gophers can try to build off the way they answered the Badgers' late go-ahead goal with Seth Ambroz's game-saving goal with two seconds remaining in the third period to force overtime.
"Going into the third period with a one-goal lead we wanted to finish off the win there," Gophers sophomore Taylor Cammarata said after contributing one of Gophers' seven assists. "But … it was nice to get that one at the end to get a point, for sure.
"It would have been pretty devastating to lose that third period."
Coach Don Lucia scribbled as fast as he could on his play calling whiteboard trying to scheme a way for the Gophers (12-9-3, 3-2-3 Big Ten) to avoid an upset in Madison. The Gophers trailed 4-3 with 1:13 left in the third period after Cameron Hughes scored a power-play goal for Wisconsin (2-16-4, 0-6-2). The Badgers were moments from what would have been their first Big Ten win of the season.
The play might not have developed as Lucia hoped, but with goalie Adam Wilcox pulled for an extra attacker, Ambroz slammed home the tying goal two ticks before the final buzzer.
Ambroz finished two goals for the second consecutive night. Jake Bischoff scored his second goal on the weekend, and Christian Isackson scored to give the Gophers a 3-2 lead in the third period. Seven different players contributed assists for the Gophers, who outshot the Badgers 46-25. Wilcox made 21 saves, while Wisconsin goalie Joel Rumpel stopped 42 shots.
Shootouts continue cause the Gophers grief. Corbin McGuire scored the go-ahead goal and Justin Kloos was stuffed by Rumpel to give Wisconsin its second shootout victory over the Gophers in a span of three weeks.
The biggest concern of the night, however, was Gophers sophomore forward Connor Reilly. He was kneed by McGuire, didn't return to the game and is expected to be out for an extended period of time.
"It's frustrating because we continually can't close games," Ambroz said. "That's been our biggest problem so far this year. Again we're up 2-1 going into the third and we couldn't close. They tie it up and we score again and let up another one. … And it's frustrating we keep losing shootouts."
The Gophers fell behind nine seconds into the series finale when Ryan Wagner scored his first collegiate goal, but Bischoff tied it in the first and Ambroz made it 2-1 in the second.
Wisconsin wouldn't go away, though, tying it 2-2 on Grant Besse's power-play goal in the third, and again 3-3 when Kevin Schulze scored. Hughes' goal had Wisconsin positioned to win, but Ambroz — as he has done continuously over his four-year career against the Badgers — spoiled their night for a moment. Eleven of Ambroz's 35 career goals have come against Wisconsin.
Still, Lucia lamented the lost opportunity to win.
"We dressed 11 [forwards] and seven [defensemen] to begin with and then we lose Connor early so we're down to 10 forwards," Lucia said. "Guys like Isackson stepped up … But we had plenty of chances to extend the lead more than we wanted and we didn't."