A slow start cost the University of Wisconsin its Big Ten series opener against Minnesota. They weren’t going to let it happen again.
Unable to dig itself out of the first-period quagmire they created Friday, the Badgers responded to a 2-1 deficit with four straight goals in a 5-3 victory over the seventh-ranked Gophers in front of a season-high 14,868 at the Kohl Center.
Five different players scored for the Badgers (11-8-1, 4-2-0-0 Big Ten), which beat a top-10 conference opponent for the first time since Feb. 7, 2014.
“This is a huge win for our team right now,” senior defenseman Cobin McGuire said, who accounted for the fourth UW goal. “This is a huge win for our program, huge win for our fans, huge wins for the University of Wisconsin. I know everybody in that room is so excited after tonight.”
The Badgers dominated in stretches of the second and third period in the series opener, but succumbed to rushes up the middle from the Gophers’ attack and the inability to fully climb out of a 2-0 first-period deficit.
So while they entered the first intermission down 2-1 one night later, the mood was more than upbeat.
“We knew that we did get to our game the night before to create a lot of offensive chances off our forecheck and off of our offensive zone play,” Wisconsin coach Tony Granato said, whose team improved to 7-0-1 this season in games after a loss. “They were confident in that we could get to our game and get back into the game only being down by a goal.”
Wisconsin’s brand of aggression turned the game around in a two-minute stretch midway through the second period after Granato started to shuffle lines to get better rhythm. A rush by forward Will Johnson was stopped by goalie Eric Schierhorn (32 saves), but the loose puck yielded a prime wrap-around opportunity for assistant captain Cameron Hughes.
Just 91 seconds later, defenseman Tin Davison created a turnover along the boards and rifled a goal glove side from the top of the right circle. Not only was it Davison’s first goal since December 2015, it went down as the game-winner.
“I liked the way we played the last 40 minutes a lot,” Granato said. “We should feel good about it.”
Ryan Norman and Mike Szmatula scored first-period goals for Minnesota (14-6-2, 6-2-0-0 Big Ten), but saw its seven-game win streak end when mental breakdowns mounted and leaks started to occur on the penalty kill. The Gophers had killed its previous 27 penalty attempts, but saw the Badgers go 2-for-6 with a pair of insurance goals.
“You get what you earn,” Minnesota coach Don Lucia said, whose team dominated in front of the net in game one but didn’t create near enough traffic in game two. “We didn’t earn a win. We’d been playing really well defensively. It just wasn’t there tonight.”
Even with a comfortable three-goal lead, the Badgers’ defense still had some anxious moments that goalie Matt Jurusik (32 saves) was ready for. Shortly after he took an interference penalty, Jurusik stuffed center Vinni Lettieri on a breakaway with 15 minutes to go.
Including killing off a 5-on-3 for 1:06, the Badgers were 1-for-5 on the penalty kill in the third period, the only damage coming with 54.8 seconds to go.
“We did a really good job for staying out of the box in key situations most of the weekend, and then all of a sudden in the third period the whistles started blowing a little more,” Granato said. “Our PK was confident. ‘Matty’ made some big saves on it.”
Big Ten roundup
No.11 Ohio State 6, No.1 Penn State 3
Junior forward Matthew Weis broke a 3-3 tie 38 seconds into the third period to open the floodgates for Ohio State to take five of six points in the road series. Six different players scored for the Buckeyes, who were playing without second-leading scorer Nick Schilkey and third-leading scorer Tanner Laczynski, and Ohio State’s defense blocked 34 shots. Playing its first series in school history as the country’s No.1 ranked team, Penn State outshot Ohio State, 44-28, but was held winless in a series for the first time since March 11-12, 2016. The Buckeyes finish the regular season 2-1-1-1 against the Nittany Lions.
Michigan State 2, Michigan 2 (Michigan wins shootout, 1-0, in three rounds)
Cooper Marody’s low shot in the third round of the shootout allowed Michigan to salvage an extra point away from rival Michigan State at Munn Ice Arena after failing to hold a pair of one-goal leads. Spartans freshman center Patrick Khodorenko’s backhanded power-play shot tied the score with 10:40 remaining in the third period, allowing the Spartans to go through a weekend without a loss for the first time since February 19-20, 2016.