MADISON, Wis. -- With their team off to its best start in more than 80 years, some Minnesota Gophers fans had likely started to dream of an unbeaten run through the 2020-21 campaign.
Wisconsin, apparently, is where those dreams go to die.
Facing their first serious adversity of the season, with a two-goal deficit on the road in the third period, the Gophers made a furious final push and got a Sampo Ranta goal. But Badgers goalie Robbie Beydoun had an answer for nearly everything thrown his way, with 35 saves in a 3-1 Wisconsin win.
Ranta’s goal, his team-leading eighth of the season, was the only offense for the Gophers (10-1-0 overall, 8-1-0-0-0-0 Big Ten), who got 19 saves from goalie Jack LaFontaine. They had won 12 consecutive games dating back to last season before the frustrating outing versus their archrivals.
“I think this was a classic game tonight where we showed up and Wisconsin showed up first,” Gophers coach Bob Motzko said. “They had a lot more determination early in the game, and it took us a while to find it. We weren’t bad tonight. We were OK. But in a game like this we needed better than OK.”
Tarek Baker had a goal and an assist for the Badgers (6-5-0, 6-3-0-0-1-0) but their story was told in the crease, where Beydoun was lucky and good in getting his fifth win of the season. The Badgers led 2-0 after Baker scored less than two minutes into the third period.
After Ranta cut the Badgers’ lead in half with a power play goal in the third period, the Gophers spent the game’s final dozen minutes pressing hard, with 17 shots in the third. They pulled LaFontaine with under two minutes to play, on a power play, and got several good looks at the net with a 6-on-4 skater advantage. But the Badgers got an empty net goal to give the Gophers their first quiet postgame locker room of the season.
“It’s not a good feeling,” Ranta said. “We’ve got to be better tomorrow. We’ve got to be hungry and come back tomorrow and get the job done.”
The Gophers’ second period MVP may have been equipment man Lee Greseth. After LaFontaine stopped a turnaround shot by Ty Pelton-Byce, his skate blade needed replacing. Greseth sprinted to the Gophers’ locker room to retrieve a replacement blade, then ran onto the ice to install it. The goalie even gave the new blade a kiss for good luck. So it was likely a coincidence that the Badgers’ next shot eluded LaFontaine, but Motzko felt his team didn’t handle the disruption well.
“We were off. That was a long delay and we weren’t handling things like that tonight,” he said. “Wisconsin got back and got their A game going, and there we are.”
The first period was scoreless thanks in part to the Badgers blocking four shots and generally plugging up shooting lanes the Gophers might otherwise have used. At the other end of the rink, the Gophers did a nice job of having numbers back to double- and triple-team Badgers star forward Cole Caufield when he had the puck.
Caufield, along with Gophers defensemen Brock Faber, Jackson LaCombe and Ryan Johnson were recognized before the game for their role in the gold medal won by Team USA on Tuesday night at the World Juniors in Edmonton. They also gave a nod to Badgers forward Dylan Holloway, who got a silver medal with Team Canada.
Badgers coach Tony Granato complimented the Gophers on their late-game push and their overall game.
“When you’re playing the No. 1 team in the country and they’re undefeated, they’re going to look up at the scoreboard and want to continue their streak. So they came at us,” he said. “I know why they’re No. 1 from what I’ve watched but now that we've played against them and I've seen it first-hand, they're solid from the net out. Their goaltender is really, really good and I love the way their blue line plays. Their depth up front makes them a real tough opponent.”
The series concludes at 4 p.m. on Sunday.
View Jess Myers’ post-game comments here.
First period — No scoring. Penalties — Cullen Munson, MIN (slashing), 3:14; Tyler Inamoto, WIS (tripping), 8:23.
Second period — 1. WIS, Linus Weissbach 6 (Tarek Baker, Cole Caufield), 5:13. Penalties — Jack Perbix, MIN (hooking), 9:34.
Third period — 2. WIS, Baker 2 (Sam Stange, Josh Ess), 1:59. 3. MIN, Sampo Ranta 8 (Ben Meyers, Mike Koster), 7:50, (pp). 4. WIS, Owen Lindmark 3 (unassisted), 19:04, (sh), (en). Penalties — Anthony Kehrer, WIS (charging), 2:10; Lindmark, WIS (hooking), 7:19; Mike Vorlicky, WIS (cross checking), 17:48.
Shots on goal — WIS 8-10-4—22; MIN 11-8-17—36. Goalies — Robbie Beydoun, WIS (36 shots-35 saves); Jack LaFontaine, MIN (22-19). Power plays — WIS 0-of-2, MIN 1-of-4. Referees — Barry Pochmara, Jonathon Sitarski. Linesmen — Samuel Shikowsky, Johnathan Morrison. Att. — NA.