Minnesota (14-0-1 overall, 12-0-1 WCHA) junior wing Natalie Darwitz broke a scoreless tie with a sparkling goal midway through the second period and senior wing Kelly Stephens iced it with two minutes left in the third as the Badgers were scrambling to put some offense together.
Darwitz, Stephens and senior center Krissy Wendell combined for 14 of Minnesota's 23 shots and tallied four points, but were largely held in check. There was little open ice for either team, and most of the Gophers' top line's shots were not from ideal scoring positions.
Senior goaltender Jody Horak made 22 saves for Minnesota in shutting out Wisconsin (11-4-0, 7-4-0) for the first time since a 3-0 loss at Minnesota-Duluth Dec. 5, 2003. The last team to shut out Wisconsin at the Kohl Center was Minnesota, by a 3-0 margin Oct. 25, 2003.
"It felt like a chess game out there," Wisconsin coach Mark Johnson said. "No one really opened anything up. They capitalized on a couple situations and the situations we had we didn't capitalize on."
The Badgers had a handful of high-quality scoring chances down 1-0, highlighted by sophomore wing Lindsay Macy's breakaway with about four-and-a-half minutes left to play. Macy, though, rifled her shot over the net.
"I felt very comfortable going into the third period down 1-0," Johnson said. "You look for an opportunity for a goal and Lindsay goes in all alone. I say, ‘here comes our opportunity,' and if you capitalize there people get excited and you get a little bit of momentum."
Wisconsin tried to progressively up the tempo in the third period, but Minnesota clamped down defensively, allowing just four shots on goal in the final frame.
"As good as Minnesota is offensively, they give up less than a goal a game, and you can see why," Johnson said. "They were very comfortable playing that 1-0 game."
Sophomore Christine Dufour was strong in goal for Wisconsin, stopping 21 of 23 shots, and giving up only one clean shot off a rebound, which resulted in Stephens' clincher, following junior defender Allie Sanchez's shot from the point.
"[Dufour] played very well," Johnson said. "She gave us an opportunity."
The Badgers kept Minnesota's nation-leading power play off the ice for the first 29:03 of the game before freshman defender Emily Morris took one of only two UW penalties. The violation proved costly, however, though not until the final moments of the man-advantage.
Wisconsin actually had more scoring chances during the power play than Minnesota, including a short-handed opportunity for center Sara Bauer, who deked to her backhand in front of the net but had her shot deflect off Gopher defender Lindsay Wall before Horak made the save.
With the two-minute advantage running out, however, Darwitz received the puck in the circle, maneuvered around two Badgers and slid the puck beneath Dufour's pads one second after the penalty expired.
Minnesota had controlled the second-period action to that point, but Wisconsin responded, dominating play and holding the Gophers without a shot on goal in the final 9:56 of the frame.
Less than a minute after the goal, Macy drew an interference call and slipped the puck ahead to Bauer. The ensuing breakaway opportunity, however, skipped off Bauer's stick as she made a move to her backhand in front of the crease.
The Badgers struggled on their resulting power play but had a number of scoring chances in the period. The best came after Engstrom blocked a shot and rushed the puck up ice, taking a shot from the circle. Horak, though, made a strong glove save with Badger sophomore wing Heidi Kletzien cutting to the net undisturbed.
"We played pretty consistent over the 60 minutes," Johnson said, "but in this business you have to put the puck in the net to win and unfortunately we didn't do that."
Wisconsin came out of the gates running on all cylinders, recording the game's first four shots on goal. For long stretches in the first period the Badgers dominated offensive zone time, but Minnesota made up for it with spurts of its own, out-shooting Wisconsin 13-9 in a choppy, scoreless opening 20 minutes.
The Badgers nearly took an early lead on the game's first power play 13:19 into the opening period, but sophomore wing Meaghan Mikkelson's shot from the circle hit the post.
The two teams meet again Sunday afternoon at 2:05 p.m. Admission is free for anyone with a ticket stub from the UW men's hockey game Friday or Saturday night.