Ross Carlson contributed on every Badger score (one goal, two assists) and goalie Bernd Bruckler posted 23 saves against one of the top offenses in the nation, propelling Wisconsin (20-6-1, 15-4-0 Western Collegiate Hockey Association) to its seventh straight win.
Coming off of a bye week, the Badgers spent the opening period braving the Gopher assault. They rebounded in the second, however, gaining a 2-0 lead and stretching it to three by the time Minnesota (19-11-0, 12-9-0) managed to get on the scoreboard. Wisconsin used its defense to keep its opponent in check and control the game, allowing the offense time to gain the lead.
"We got the rust off, we got used to the tempo," UW head coach Mike Eaves said in regards to the Badgers' slow start and strong finish. "We were banking on the fact that experience tells us that we were going to be a better team."
"I think they tried to weather our storm, cause we came out gunning," Gopher forward Ryan Potulny said.
Though among the Top 10 scoring offenses in the nation, Wisconsin only managed 17 shots, preferring to beat the Gophers in a possession game rather than in a shootout.
The Gophers' lone goal, a power play tally by team scoring leader Potulny at the 11:04 mark in the third period, came too little, too late for the visitors. Aside from their lone goal and a Jake Fleming shot that hit off the post, the Minnesota offense came up with few threats against the stout Badger back line.
"The effort was great by the guys, they let me see the puck all night," Bruckler said. "Hopefully we can come out again tomorrow like that."
Though Bruckler deserves credit for his dominance between the pipes, the blue-liners in front of him warrant praise as well. They gave the normally potent Gopher forwards little room to work, closing off passing lanes, blocking a significant number of shots and holding Minnesota to one goal for just the fifth time this season. Minnesota has not been shut out.
"There wasn't a lot of room on the ice and that's the way they like to play," Minnesota head coach Don Lucia said. "We had some chances to score and Bruckler made the saves. That's why he's an All-American goaltender."
Any Badger who remembers Danny Irmen's controversial penalty shot in the Gophers' 3-2 win in November could not help but smile when Nick Licari put the home team up by three on an almost identical shot. Licari split through the defense and worked his way past diving pursuers to deke Gopher netminder Kellen Briggs and backhand in the Badgers' final score at 5:17 of the third period.
Though the penalty kill is the more regarded of the Wisconsin special teams, the power play line reminded everyone that they are not far behind, chipping in an insurance goal midway through the second.
It took Wisconsin only eight seconds to complete the feat, with Joe Pavelski scoring his 10th goal of the year on a wide angle shot past Briggs.
"It was really just a broken down play," Pavelski said. "I picked it up and their guy [Briggs] was just standing there, it was one-on-one … I stepped out and was able to get around him and get a shot off that went in."
The Badgers established the lead two minutes into the second period when Ross Carlson's shot deflected off the inside of Briggs' leg pads and found the net.
Minnesota has now lost seven of its last 10 games and desperately needs a win to salvage its good playoff position. Wisconsin is under pressure of its own, however. Colorado College also collected a win Friday evening to maintain a three-point edge in the WCHA standings.
Thoughts of the McNaughton Cup and postseason play will not be needed, though, to motivate either team Saturday. For Minnesota and Wisconsin, the feeling that comes from a win over their bitter enemies will be more than sufficient to do that. Faceoff is 7:07 pm at the Kohl Center.