Any time you put a team on the power-play you're putting yourself in harms way. When you do it against the sixth best power-play in the country, you're juggling fire with one hand tied behind your back.
Wisconsin (12-10-7, 9-7-7 WCHA) skated with No. 2 Minnesota (20-5-4, 12-5-4) Friday night, but were done in by three power-play tallies in a 3-2 loss.
The Gophers came into the night as the top ranked offense in the country, and proved why in front of 13,611 fans at the Kohl Center Friday. Minnesota put 43 shots on Wisconsin goaltender Joel Rumpel, who was clearly Wisconsin's best player.
"We had a quick analysis in the coaches room (following the game), and in the things that we liked tonight, (Rumpel) was at the top of the list," Eaves said. "He gave us a chance."
Rumpel has played well throughout his Wisconsin career, and many onlookers thought that this might have been one of his finest performances.
"He's had a lot of good games," junior center Mark Zengerle said after the game. "It's good for him to get back on his horse like that, he definitely kept us in there."
"Him and Landon (Peterson), they've been a one-two punch all year for us. They give us a chance to win every night, so it's great to have that."
Unfortunately for the Badgers, 40 saves from Rumpel weren't enough.
All three Gopher goals came on the power-play Friday, as Minnesota went three for four on the man advantage. Wisconsin head coach Mike Eaves had a lot of praise for Don Lucia's skilled bunch.
"They're all like starting quarterbacks."
Wisconsin started the scoring in the first period on an even-strength goal by freshman Nic Kerdiles. Re-uniting with line-mates Tyler Barnes and Zengerle, Kerdiles was able to corral a knee high pass in the air from Zengerle and tap it into the open net.
Minnesota bounced right back four minutes later on a goal from Sam Warning on the power-play. A long shot from Ben Marshall deflected right to the stick of Warning who had an open net to tie things up.
The Gophers took their first lead of the night with less than two minutes left in the second period. With Joseph Labate in the box serving a double-minor for taking two penalties on one shift, Nick Bjugstad unleashed a laser beam that tipped off the stick of UW defender Jake McCabe and went top shelf on Rumpel.
The 6-foot-6 Bjugstad was a beast the entire night, and showed flashes of why he was picked as the WCHA's pre-season player of the year.
"Bjugstad's got that thing you don't teach," Eaves said after the game.
Minnesota would extend its lead 12:48 into the third period on its third power-play goal of the night. After a scrum out in front of Rumpel, Seth Ambroz was able to fight off a UW defenseman to poke the puck over the goal line.
Eaves would pull his goaltender with around three minutes remaining in the contest, and it almost worked. Junior winger Tyler Barnes banged home a rebound past Minnesota goaltender Adam Wilcox with 1:02 to play, but the Gophers were able to close the door in the final minute to secure the 3-2 victory.
Asked after the game if there is anything different his penalty could do against a talented Gopher club, Eaves had one suggestion.
"Stay out of the penalty box, that's the biggest thing we can do."
Wisconsin and Minnesota will take a day off on Saturday to travel to Chicago. Sunday, the long-time WCHA rivals will skate on Soldier Field in the OfficeMax Hockey City Classic in front of a projected 50,000 people.
Game time on Sunday is set for 3:30, and the event can be seen live on the Big Ten Network.
Sunday's game will mark the final regular season meeting between Wisconsin and Minnesota as members of the WCHA.
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