MINNEAPOLIS -- If there's a silver lining to a 4-0 loss to your biggest rival, it's that the game has little-to-no postseason implications. And if your team is going to stumble and your goaltender develop a case of the yips, a fairly meaningless regular season series is where you want them to get those things out of their system before the playoffs start next week.
If seems no matter how the Badgers prepare for the Gophers, Minnesota hits them with something they aren't expecting. Badger coach Mark Johnson said he warned his team in practice this week that the Gophers were going to come out with high intensity to start Friday's game, but that it took his team too long to catch up.
The Gophers scored just 2:48 into the first period when Megan Wolfe's puck snuck through Ann-Renée Desbiens' pads and into the net. Less than four minutes later, Madison native Amanda Kessel made it 2-0 and the Badgers were out of the game before they ever had a chance to get into it. Kessel's third period goal was her 100th as a Gopher.
Both teams play a possession game and in that respect, neither of them won. There was little prolonged possession or puck movement from either side. Instead, the Gophers came out buzzing, abandoning their normal game-plan and crashing down on the Badger defense and Desbiens. The resulting chaos led to two Minnesota goals in the first seven minutes, something the Badgers were unable to recover from.
The quick start put the Badgers back on their heels and clearly left them shaken up for much of the game. There were missed line-changes, collisions with their own players and a too many men penalty to open the third period. The Gophers' game plan set the tone for the game.
"It’s a matter of trying to catch up to speed. We knew today was going to be a high pace. We needed to play eight minutes of 0-0 hockey or get one, but they scored the first one and they got excited. After that we caught up and it was a good game. They capitalized on some of their opportunities and we didn’t and that’s the end of the game right there," said Johnson.
The game had shades of the series against North Dakota a few weeks ago in Madison and Johnson said back then that he showed the team tape after Friday night's game so they could focus on the details they were missing. It's likely the same will happen tonight as Johnson tries to get his team to shake off the loss and regroup for Saturday's game.
"We made a couple of mistakes - just tracking people and paying attention to details. They’ve got some high-lowered kids and if you give them time and space, they can do wonderful things. You’ve got to take that away. It’s a good learning opportunity. It gets us up to speed. It’s a good weekend to play against each other because it gets you ready for next weekend," said Johnson.
It was an uncharacteristic night for Desbiens, who was bombarded and had a lot of traffic in front of the net. She bobbled a few pucks and struggled at times to keep site of the puck when it was in the chaos of legs and sticks in front of her.
Despite the lopsided scored and early part of the first period, the game came out fairly evenly matched. Each team attempted 53 shots. Final shots on goal were Minnesota 36, Wisconsin 35. It was the first time this season the Badgers have been out-shot.
"We had our opportunities. We had 35 shots and against them that’s a pretty good night. You’ve got to get something behind the goaltender to create some energy. They were able to do it," said Johnson.
For a team that's lost just once all season and had finally broken through with two home wins over Minnesota after being kept from the win column in 18 meetings, it was a disappointing showing in the first game of the final regular season series.
The teams return to the ice Saturday at 3 pm for a nationally televised game on Big Ten Network. The Badgers will need to regroup and shake of Friday night's win to try to end the regular season on a high note. They can't afford to let Friday night's game linger too long as they head to the one-and-done post-season.
"We did some good things; we just didn’t do enough of those good things over the course of the 60 minutes.. tomorrow we need to pay attention to details and do the little things a little bit better than we did," said Johnson.