Badgers men’s hockey team gains split with Minnesota
MINNEAPOLIS — How does a team put the pieces back together after coming so unglued 24 hours earlier?
Can it? Or did the damage get all the way to the foundation?
The University of Wisconsin men’s hockey team provided an answer Saturday night against a Minnesota team that made the Badgers lose their poise over the final minutes of the series opener.
UW was up to the challenge despite a leaky penalty kill early, and its captain provided two big third-period plays to eke out a 4-3 victory in front of a sellout crowd at 3M Arena at Mariucci.
Defenseman Peter Tischke made a key block as the Badgers finally killed a Minnesota power play on the fourth try, then he broke a tie at the other end of the ice a short time later with his third goal of the season.
“With a young team, you’re hoping the response is the right way,” Badgers coach Tony Granato said. “Fortunately, our leaders and our players were able to put last night behind us.”
The victory ended the Badgers’ unbeaten skid at five games and made for a fourth straight series split between the teams at Mariucci.
After Friday’s game, UW had to face up to a stunning lapse in composure as Minnesota scored four goals in the final five minutes of a 9-4 victory. The Badgers said their players’ stick-smashing meltdown was out of character and wouldn’t happen again.
They were put to the test again with a tie game going to the third period after the Badgers got the better of a five-goal middle frame.
Tischke provided a 4-3 lead by hitting the top right corner from the slot not long after blocking Tyler Nanne’s power-play shot. It was a major swing for the Badgers (9-11-4, 5-5-4-1 Big Ten Conference).
“Our PK going up to that wasn’t doing so hot,” Tischke said. “You give up three power-play goals on the road, you usually don’t come out winning those games.”
Minnesota (10-11-4, 7-6-3) scored on its first three power plays to improve to 6-for-7 in the series, but the Badgers foiled both Gophers chances in the third period.
Goaltender Daniel Lebedeff was solid when the Badgers needed him in the third period, stopping all 12 shots he faced and 29 for the game.
“He was competitive. He was challenging. He was confident,” Granato said. “That was a great response by him because, like the rest of us last night, he was one that got rattled at the end of the game.”
After scoring three times on the power play on Friday, the Gophers added another to open the scoring in the first period on Saturday.
With Will Johnson serving a slashing penalty, the Badgers penalty killers gave Rem Pitlick plenty of space to fire a shot from above the right circle that sailed past Lebedeff’s blocker.
Two goals in less than three minutes from the Badgers’ third line gave them their first lead of the series in the second period.
A video review found the first one, with Dominick Mersch getting credit for getting the puck behind goalie Mat Robson (28 saves) and just over the goal line despite an initial no-goal call. Linus Weissbach scored his first goal since Oct. 27 less than three minutes later after freeing the puck from a scrum in front.
But for the sixth time this season — and second in as many nights — UW allowed a goal less than two minutes after scoring. Brent Gates Jr. made it 2-2 on the power play.
Pitlick scored his second man-advantage goal to give Minnesota the lead again when UW took a penalty after Ty Emberson turned the puck over in his own zone. Mick Messner, penalized after Emberson’s turnover, answered for the Badgers less than five minutes later with his second goal of the series to send the game into the third period tied.
The Badgers used five defensemen for most of the game because Tyler Inamoto was out with an upper-body injury. The sophomore, who had played in 60 straight games before Saturday, is day to day, according to a UW spokesperson.
UW dressed Jesper Peltonen in his place but rarely used the freshman.
The Badgers killed only three of nine Minnesota power-play tries in the series — they’re just 13-for-23 (57 percent) on the kill in six games in 2019 — but came up with two massive successes after penalties to Josh Ess and Wyatt Kalynuk in the third.
“We found some urgency,” Granato said.