Chicago, IL - After Friday night's 3-2 loss to the Gophers, Wisconsin faced as much of a "must win" as you could think of if they wanted to make their case for the NCAA tournament and after a sluggish start to Sunday's game the Border Battle was in danger of becoming the "Boring Battle."
However, a 4 minute explosion of offense late in the 2nd period by the Badgers changed all of that. Wisconsin scored three goals in a span of 3 minutes and 19 seconds to put the Badgers comfortably in the drivers seat, up 3-0.
That would be all the offense the Badgers needed as Wisconsin (13-10-8; 10-7-7 WCHA) took down the Gophers (20-6-4; 12-6-4 WCHA), 3-2 in front of 52,051 at Soldier Field.
"Well, an entertaining game," said Badgers head coach Mike Eaves. "The experience we had today is a lifetime experience and that's the trade-off you get."
It may not have been pretty all the time, but the Badgers won by keeping it simple and taking advantage of the conditions on the ice.
"Based on who we are and what are strengths are as a hockey team and hockey players, that for the most part we need to keep it simple, be really smart and that helps us play effective and be successful," said Eaves.
Wisconsin and Minnesota skated to a scoreless 1st period that saw the Gophers rack up a 15-6 advantage in shots on goal, but it was the Badgers with the better of the scoring chances as they actually scored a goal. However, it was immediately waived off for high sticking from Joseph LaBate at the 10:51 mark of the period.
Outside of that, the first period was more about fighting the conditions on the ice and each other as Wisconsin's Jake McCabe and Minnesota's Zach Budish found themselves in a scrum in front of Joel Rumpel's net, leading to 2 minute roughing minors.
Unlike Friday night the Gophers couldn't take advantage of their power play this time around going 0-3 on the night. Wisconsin, however, got a big time advantage on the power play as the Gophers Nate Schmidt was called for cross-checking at 19:09 of the 1st period.
Per usual the Badgers couldn't take advantage of their power play, despite having a great chance presented to Mark Zengerle, who whiffed on a back door opportunity. However, the Badgers put some nice pressure on Minnesota goaltender, Chris Wilcox, including a shot by Brendan Woods that hit the crossbar.
That would become the trend as the Badgers continued to work patiently in the offensive zone. Wisconsin's patience paid off after a great string of possession in the offensive zone led to Kevin Schulze putting a puck on net and squeaking past Wilcox at the 13:03 mark of the 2nd period. It was his 3rd goal of the season and the assists went to Brendan Woods (3) and Mark Zengerle (12).
It was a goal that was really big for the team and for the freshman, Schulze. Let's face it, scoring first changes how you play the game.
"After the 1st period we had - we didn't seem to be playing on our toes, we seemed to be on our heels a little bit and so getting that goal gave us confidence," said Eaves.
The floodgates appeared to open up after that as just 1:10 later John Ramage put a blast on net that took a deflection off a Gophers defender to make it 2-0 UW. It was Ramage's 5th goal of the season. Assists would go to Michael Mersch (8) and Brendan Woods (3), who actually made the goal possible with a great move to save the puck from going out of the zone.
The final nail in the coffin came from a dump in front of the net by Jefferson Dahl that was put in by Sean Little at the 16:22 mark of the 2nd period. It was the younger Little's 2nd goal of the season and put Wisconsin firmly in front.
Wisconsin left the 2nd period up 3-0 but Minnesota wasn't going to let their rivals get off completely easy either. Just 2:36 into the 3rd Seth Ambroz knocked home the Gophers first goal of the game and from then on it was game on.
Minnesota outshot the Badgers 11-3 in the 3rd period and that offensive output paid dividends as the Gophers made a mad scramble late in the period, going down by just a goal at the 18:18 mark on Zach Budish's 10th goal of the season.
Despite the two goals in the 3rd period the biggest star for Wisconsin was the man between the pipes as Joel Rumpel stopped 36 of 38 shots on goal and made perhaps his biggest save in the final seconds as the Gophers blasted one stick side, only to have Rumpel get his pad out to make the save. For his effort he got the game puck from his teammates.
The win puts the Badgers in position for a top 4 standing in the WCHA as they are now 6th in the standings with 27 points, just one point shy of rivals Minnesota and North Dakota for the 4th spot.
Wisconsin will next take on a new Big Ten foe, as they welcome Penn State to the Kohl Center for the 1st series between the two schools ever. It's also a rare Sunday - Monday series for the Badgers.