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In front of a loud crowd Thursday night and sold-out one Friday, No. 12 Wisconsin beat top-ranked Minnesota, 2-1, both nights.
What’s the Impact
The Badgers (16-8-2, 7-4-1-0 Big Ten) lost 4-1 and 4-3 in Minneapolis in late November, so controlling home ice was important to keep pace in the Big Ten. Thanks to the sweep and Michigan splitting at Penn State, the Badgers enter the stretch run in second place in the conference, just four points behind the Gophers.
Wisconsin finally got Nic Kerdiles back from injury, which was much needed because Tyler Barnes was not in the lineup, and the sophomore delivered the winning goal Friday.
With the sweep of the Gophers, the Badgers swept a number one for the first time since 2004 and swept Minnesota at home for the first time since 1999.
Wisconsin’s win on Thursday night was its first over a ranked team since Nov. 11, 2011. The momentum continued in front of an even larger crowd on Friday night. Nic Kerdiles made his presence known on Friday after recently missing time with a shoulder injury by scoring the game-winning goal with 15:27 left in the third period. The defense held on to finish the sweep.
Wisconsin also sits comfortably at seven in the Pairwise Rankings, a system used to mimic the 16-team NCAA tournament field.
Who was the Weekend MVP
Joel Rumpel: Minnesota is undefeated this season when scoring three goals or more this season, so the key was to keep the Gophers under two. Rumpel did that on both nights. Rumpel stopped 31 of 32 shots on Thursday night, as Rumpel got strong defense in front of him by limiting odd-man rushes. When Minnesota did get an opening, Rumpel kept his pads low and made some slick glove saves.
Rumpel held the Badgers in the game again on Friday night, stopping 28 of 29 Gophers’ shots, including 4-of-5 shots on four power plays.
“Phenomenal in all aspects of his game,” freshman Grant Besse said of Rumpel’s play. “Controlling rebounds, making the first save … he’s a big reason why we came out of here with six points.”
Three Areas of Concern
Shooting: The Badgers did win both nights, but their offense had a hard time getting shots through to the net. On Thursday they managed just 19 shots on goal with only three coming in the third period. Shots were easier to come by Friday but the Badgers were still outshot 29-27.
The third period was not friendly to the Badgers in the series. The Badgers totaled just 12 shots on goal. However two of those got past Gophers goalie Adam Wilcox to seal UW wins.
Penalties: Wisconsin was down a man far too many times this past weekend. Luckily solid goaltending and penalty killing allowed them to escape mostly unscathed. UW had four penalties on Thursday and Friday, including one five-minute major by Jake McCabe in game two when he checked a Minnesota player in the helmet.
“We talked about this with our team before,” Wisconsin coach Mike Eaves said. “Every game is a riddle and there’s no textbook answers. The riddle (Friday) was how to win in the third without 19 (McCabe) in your lineup.”
First game legs: Eaves said the team had “classroom” legs after Thursday night’s game, which led to the Badgers getting tired quickly. The Badgers gave up a few more man-advantage opportunities to the Gophers on Thursday as the game wore on, which Eaves contributed to playing on a small rink.
“It’s a factor, not an excuse,” he said. “We talked about it openly. We have to adapt to the big ice as quickly as we can.”
UW won on Thursday despite Eaves and the players admitting they could play much better.
Three Areas of Excitement
Penalty Kill: Wisconsin’s power kill continued frustrating its opponents. The Badgers killed off all four Minnesota power plays on Thursday and were able to go 3-for-4 Friday. The Badgers successfully killed off 26 straight power plays before allowing a goal.
Shot blocking: Wisconsin’s shot blocking over the weekend helped contribute to the strong defensive performance. While Rumpel stopped a plethora of shots, he got a lot of help from his defenseman. Senior defenseman and captain Frankie Simonelli blocked four of UW’s 15 shots on Thursday, not to mention the game’s opening goal. UW blocked another 21 shots Friday night.
Responding without McCabe: McCabe scored the game-winning goal on Thursday, ripping the game-winning shot past Wilcox from the right circle off, and had three blocks and a plus-one rating on Friday. UW’s defense could have folded when McCabe received a game misconduct midway through the second period, but the short-handed defense played some of its best hockey of the season.
“Big picture, it’s awesome. Just in general, what an event tonight at the Kohl Center. Sold out crowd. It was awesome to be a part of. A memory everyone on this team will remember forever.” – Simonelli.
The Badgers will travel to Columbus to take on Ohio State in a Friday-Saturday series. The Buckeyes (14-9-3, 4-5-3-2) tied both games against Michigan State over the weekend, 2-2, but won an extra point each night with shootout victories. Ohio State scored two empty-net goals in the final 94 seconds Friday night.
Sitting in fourth place, with 17 points and three points behind Michigan, Ohio State split in Madison Jan.24-25, losing 5-3 Friday and winning 3-1 Saturday.