In a night that at times looked to be a repeat of Friday, Minnesota found someone who was able to turn things on its head.
Junior forward Tom Serratore, who left Friday night's game after a vicious hit, scored the go-ahead goal Saturday as the third-ranked Gophers defeated Wisconsin (1-5-2, 1-3-2 WCHA) 3-1. Adam Wilcox (Tampa Bay Lightning) made 16 saves for Minnesota (7-2-2, 4-2-2 WCHA), who was able to kill a 33 second 5 on 3 that turned the tide of the game.
The Gophers came out strong to start game, outshooting Wisconsin 6-1 in the game's first 7 minutes and testing goaltender Joel Rumpel early and often. They had the Badgers back on their heels for most of the first period and exactly where they wanted them.
"Last night we thought we had some chances and didn't capitalize on it," said Nick Bjugstad.
Unfortunately for them, Saturday's first period was a repeat. The chances Minnesota created didn't result in any goals and a spot which haunted the team Friday, the power play, gave Wisconsin the lead with 3:36 left in the first period. After an errant pass led to a two-on-one odd-man rush, Ryan Little buried a pass by Brendan Woods for his first goal of the season.
The Gophers ended the weekend going 1-10 on the power play (including two 5 minute majors) in addition to giving up the shorthanded goal.
Wisconsin took the lead into the second period and had another boost in their special teams. With Justin Holl (Chicago Blackhawks) off for boarding, Nate Schmidt tripped a player behind the Gopher net to give the Badgers a 33 second 5 on 3 advantage. The Badgers weren't able to do much with two extra men but gave Wilcox his biggest challenge when Michael Mersch (Los Angeles Kings) found himself all alone on a 3 on 1 chance. Mersch, who scored two goals Friday, shot a puck towards the open net that the Gopher goalie was able to use his athleticism to make a glove save.
"Most goalies - when they are young especially - they're going to drop and get beat up top." said Minnesota head coach Don Lucia about Wilcox's play on the save, where he stayed upright. "He just stands his ground and throws that glove up there.
"(Adam) gave up 3 goals this weekend...he gives us a chance every night."
The freshman goalie's save seemed to turn the tide around for the Gophers and soon after that Christian Isackson (Buffalo Sabres) found Nick Bjugstad (Florida Panthers) open in the neutral zone. The junior did the rest and unleashed a slap shot that beat Rumpel to tie the game.
The 10,127 fans at Mariucci were the loudest that they have been all year between the penalty kill and Bjugstad's goal.
"The crowd's huge. They were in it the whole game," said Wilcox.
Whether it was the crowd, the goal, the penalty kill or some combination of all three, this tie felt different than Friday. Physical play and blocked shots were the story of the second period despite the fact Minnesota could not break the tie.
That was until Tom Serratore scored the go-ahead goal 5:59 into the third period.
Just as it looked Wisconsin was playing for the tie, Serratore took advantage of an Erik Haula pass (moments after he undressed John Ramage with a deke) to score his first goal since the opening weekend of the year.
"It's good to see a guy who doesn't score often get one," Lucia said,
The Badgers had opportunities in the final 15 minutes - including a power play for the final 1:38 of the game - but undisciplined play hurt Wisconsin. Minnesota had three power plays and the final penalty kill was evened up 15 seconds into it when Frankie Simonelli tripped a Gopher. Kyle Rau (Florida Panthers), who got under Wisconsin's skin for the second straight year, added the empty netter and Minnesota took three points for the second straight weekend.
With the win, the Gophers are second in the WCHA with 10 points.
In the end, Saturday's game wasn't a complete 180 from Friday because that is almost impossible to do unless there is a clean slate. Some issues still remain (and a couple looked better) but it was a good night for Tom Serratore.
Minnesota next faces Vermont on the road next Thursday and Friday. Both games start at 6 p.m. CT and air on Fox Sports North.
1) Tom Serratore
2) Nick Bjugstad
3) Ryan Little
For more University of Minnesota coverage, check out The Daily Gopher. For more University of Wisconsin coverage, go to Bucky's Fifth Quarter. You can also find WCHA and NCAA coverage atWestern College Hockey and SB Nation's NHL Hub.
Follow Nate on Twitter @gopherstate