Adjectives from fun to dead tired were thrown around when trying to describe No.12 Wisconsin and Minnesota's 3-3 tie at the Kohl Center Saturday night, but UW coach Mike Eaves didn't mince words when he poignantly said it was one of the better games his team had played this year.
With valuable points and border rights on the line, it was no surprise to see top-end goal tending, high-level competitiveness and turning points one can write a book about. But in the 258th meeting between the two storied rivals, a little-known freshman center from Jefferson Dahl made the big difference.
After shaking up the fourth line from the night before and getting a good deal of energy and chemistry from the move, Wisconsin (19-11-4, 11-10-3 WCHA) finally saw the results when Dahl backhanded in his first collegiate goal at 3:06 in the third period, tying the game at three.
"I thought our line played well tonight," Dahl said. "We just wanted to create energy and do little things like getting in low. I thought we did well."
The series in Madison was an exact flip of the November series in Minneapolis, where the home team was embarrassed the night before battling back for a 3-3 deadlock the next. It was the first time since the 2005-06 season when neither team in the series successfully defended their home ice.
"It was hard fought," Minnesota coach Don Lucia said. ‘I think both teams came out, had a sense of urgency with how important this game was and I think there's two pretty tired hockey teams right now because they laid it on the line."
The weekend also means Wisconsin (25 points) holds slim leads over Minnesota (24) and Colorado College (23) in the race for the final two home ice playoff spots.
"My overview is the next game and winning that, because that's what we can control," Eaves said.
A night after being devoid of momentum, three instances should have provided more than enough for the Badgers to latch on to, but potential turning points that Minnesota (13-12-5, 10-10-4) seemed delighted to snuff out.
- Just 17 seconds after Minnesota' Nate Condon opened the scoring with a power play tally, Justin Schultz's shot from the high slot trickled between four Gophers, including goalie Kent Patterson (32 saves), to tie the score at one at 13:23.
- After serving his two-minute penalty for hooking, Patrick Johnson received the outlet pass on the breakaway, put on a couple nifty fakes and a backhanded shot past Patterson while being hooked from behind to give UW its first lead of the weekend early in the second period.
- Being whistled for consecutive border line penalty calls, the Badgers survived killing off a 4-on-3, 5-on-3 and 5-on-4 to escape into the locker with a 2-2 tie at second intermission.
Each Wisconsin response was seemingly equaled with a counterpunch. Johnson's goal was equaled four minutes later by Jake Hansen banging home a rebound outside the crease, and the penalty-killing boost was quieted by Jacob Cepis after taking a pass from goal line to blue line from defenseman Cade Fairchild to go five-hole on UW senior goalie Brett Bennett at 44 seconds.
"The right guy had the puck (Cade) because not everybody can make that play," Lucia said.
That momentum became a footnote after Dahl scored shortly after and the Badgers' late push couldn't register into the game winner.
"We just ran out of time," Eaves said.
Bennett started in place of fellow senior Scott Gudmandson, who had given up 13 goals in the last games, and stopped 28 shots in just his third start since Nov.26
"Pure and simple, it was time for a change," Eaves said. "The other ingredient in that is he's been good in practice and he deserves it based on the way he looked in practice."