MADISON -- It had been more than four years since a Wisconsin women's hockey team defeated rival Minnesota. The Badgers had not won a game in the past 18 meetings.
Sophomore Annie Pankowski made sure the Badgers wouldn't be hearing about that anymore when she tipped in senior Courtney Burke's shot with 55 seconds left in the overtime period Friday night at LaBahn Arena to give Wisconsin a 3-2 win.
Minnesota's Sydney Baldwin took a checking penalty at 2:47 of the overtime period. The Gophers' penalty kill has struggled this season and Pankowski said tipping in pucks and exploiting the power play were things the team has been working on since the beginning of the season.
After winning the faceoff, the puck came to Burke at the point. Minnesota's captain and all-time program leading scorer lost her stick, giving Burke the opening she needed to carry the puck in close to the net and tee up a shot. Pankowski made sure it went in the net and the monkey was officially off UW's back.
Not one player on the current Badger squad had ever defeated Minnesota, so Pankowski admitted there were some screams in the locker room after the win.
The goal extended Pankowski's point streak to 20 games dating back to last season. It also kept the Badgers' undefeated season on pace as Wisconsin improved to 17-0-0. It was the team's first overtime win since Jan. 17, and the current win streak is the second-longest in program history and the fourth-longest in WCHA history.
The sold-out crowd in LaBahn was treated to one of the best hockey games played in Madison in recent years. Both teams came out a little tentative in the first period as they felt each other out and looked to find holes in the other's game.
The second period featured all the regulation-time scoring. Minnesota's Brook Garzone opened it with a breakaway that she tipped top-shelf, off Ann-Renée Desbiens's shoulder and deflected up in to the net.
Freshman Sam Cogan put the Badgers on the board when she picked up a rebound left in front of the net by Gophers goalie Amanda Leveille and batted it in. The puck was in the air and had to be reviewed to verify that it crossed the line, but it counted and Wisconsin was on the board.
Just three minutes later, senior Rachel Jones gave Wisconsin the lead after Cogan had two separate shots rebound off Leveille at close range. The second rebound went to Jones, who buried it and did an on-ice dance to celebrate. There were small bursts of of emotion from the Badgers throughout the game that showed just how important the matchup was.
Minnesota tied the game up two minutes later when Garzone and Milica McMillen got a break into the zone and Garzone slotted a perfect pass to McMillen, who buried in on a laser of a shot.
It was by far the most difficult task the Badgers had faced thus far this season. The Gophers kept them on their toes with an active forecheck, a very involved blue-line group and a lot of pesky pokechecking.
"I thought the first period we were trying to figure out how to play without the puck," Johnson said. "We haven’t had to do that much this year. We learned from that period, and then the second period I thought we were pretty good. We created some offensive time, created some opportunities.
"In the third period, they didn’t create a lot of quality scoring opportunities even though they had the puck in our end [a lot]."
The long winless streak was so frustrating for the Badgers because they'd played well against the Gophers, but had not come away with a result.
Johnson stressed to his players this week the importance of making their plays count.
"When we get our opportunities against Minnesota, we have to capitalize. The last several times we played them, we had good opportunities and we haven’t capitalized. Everybody has got to make a contribution and everyone did that. We had the last opportunity and we capitalized on that. I’m very proud of the way we played for 65 minutes."
While writers and fans have been hung up on the winless streak, Johnson and his players were focused on winning a game against a beatable opponent.
"I think going into this game, everyone knew we had our opportunity to get a piece of them and I think that we came in confident and did our job," Pankowski said.
The win was the 52nd in Desbiens's career.
Another sell-out is expected for the second game of the series on Saturday. On Friday, the Badger Band and the raucous fans created a special atmosphere for the team.
"There was so much energy, we barely had to bring our own," Pankowski said. "There was so much excitement. It was a great atmosphere to play in."