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Wisconsin Steals Big Road Win at Minnesota

Big Ten Men's Ice Hockey Championship - Semifinals Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images

sIt wasn’t pretty, but Wisconsin picked up a much-needed 3-2 road win over Minnesota to draw even with Gophers in the Big Ten standings, but much more importantly, provide a big boost to their hopes of making the NCAA tournament.

It was an inauspicious start for the Badgers. Vinni Lettieri banked in a shot off Wisconsin goalie Jack Berry from behind the goal line just 28 seconds into the game. But despite Minnesota dominating possession in the first period, the Badgers remained within one goal after twenty minutes.

The Badgers then advantage of a pair of 2-on-1 opportunities in the second period to take a 2-1 lead, and would extend it to a 3-1 lead thanks to a power play tip-in by Ryan Wagner.

Minnesota would coming storming out in the third period, generating numerous quality chances, but Berry stopped 17 of 18 shots in the third period to preserve the victory.

The two teams will complete their series tomorrow evening with the victor holding the lead in the Big Ten standings heading into the final two weekends of the season. Friday’s loss didn’t drop Minnesota outside of the top four of the Pairwise Rankings at press time, but was an immense help to the Badgers, as they moved from 19th overall to 15th with the win.

Notes and Thoughts

-Give new head coach Tony Granato and staff a lot of credit for having this team on the bubble of the NCAA tournament, because Wisconsin has the worst group of defensemen I’ve seen this season. There really isn’t a single defenseman out of the bunch that would play for Minnesota, or a lot of other teams. Even in the third period when Wisconsin was really focusing on protecting the lead, their defensemen just could not keep Gopher forwards in front of them.

-What really bailed the Badgers out was one of the sloppiest games I’ve seen from Minnesota in a long time. I felt like they coasted through the first period, but even when they started to pick up their effort once they got behind, especially in the third period, they just didn’t have the execution behind it to make much difference. There were a lot of transition opportunities where the Gophers had Wisconsin outmanned that were blown up because somebody put a pass two feet behind a wide open player, and the puck movement on the power play wasn’t as crisp as it normally is.

-There were a few bad breaks for Minnesota in there as well. Tied 1-1 in the second period, Minnesota was inches from scoring on a delayed penalty when Rem Pitlick’s shot hit off the post and rolled across the goal line. Wisconsin took a 2-1 lead when they scored shorthanded on the ensuing power play, then Leon Bristedt rang another post solidly on that same power play.

-All that is to say that Minnesota easily could have won this game handily with slightly better execution and maybe some better luck, and I wouldn’t be surprised if they won big on Saturday night.

-This game certainly did not have the atmosphere of two long-time rivals playing late in the season with a conference championship on the line. The student section was fairly loud and engaged the entire game, but the rest of the arena was the typical 75% full and dead as dead can be, even in the final two minutes with Minnesota down a goal and really pressuring. I get that there is utter indifference towards the Traviolia Cup, but apparently rivalry is beneath the $50-$80/ticket crowd.

Fancy Stats

Shots on goal: MINN: 11-9-18-38 WIS: 5-6-7-18

Even strength shot attempts: MINN: 24-7-31-58-68.2% WIS: 10-9-8-27-31.8%

Prime scoring area attempts: MINN: 7-10-13-30 WIS: 3-7-2-12

What do the numbers tell us?

The generous interpretation would be that the Badgers were very efficient with their scoring chances tonight. They got absolutely man-handled at 5-on-5, but scored two special teams goals in a second period that was featured a lot of special teams, and despite giving up a soft goal, Jack Berry was very good in the third period to steal a win.

Final Scoring

First Period

0:28 Vinni Lettieri from Taylor Cammarate and Jake Bischoff 1-0 Minnesota

Lettieri back-handed a puck from below the goal line towards the front of the net that hit off Berry’s back and bounced into the net.

Second Period

3:42 Trent Frederic from Grant Besse and Ryan Wagner 1-1

McGuire forced a turnover in the neutral that created a 2-on-1 opportunity for Besse and Frederic. Besse passed the puck across to Frederic on the right wing, and he calmly snapped a puck past Schierhorn to the blocker side.

7:22 Aidan Cavallini from Luke Kunin (short-handed) 2-1 Wisconsin

Kunin came in on a 2-on-1 and fired a wrist shot off the mask of Schierhorn. The puck bounced onto Cavallini’s stick in the crease and he tapped it in.

19:04 Ryan Wagner from Jake Linhart and Seamus Malone (power play) 3-1 Wisconsin

Linhart took a shot from the top of the point on the power play. Wagner was positioned just outside the top of the crease and was able to get a stick on the shin-high shot to tip it in.

Third Period

11:52 Vinni Lettieri from Ryan Collins and Leon Bristedt 3-2 Wisconsin

Collins made a cross-ice to Lettieri at the left face-off dot. Lettieri one-timed a slap shot off his back foot. The high shot deflected off the glove of Berry and into the net.