With Wisconsin coach Tony Granato away at the Olympics, the Gophers played to a 7-1 victory at Kohl Center on Saturday. Minnesota swept the Badgers in front of a sellout crowd of 15,359 and leapfrogged their rivals from fifth to fourth in the Big Ten Standings with two weeks to go in the regular season.
Minnesota (18-13-1 overall, 9-10-1-1 Big Ten) got off to a quick start with Leon Bristedt, Brent Gates. Jr. and Tyler Nanne scoring the team’s first three goals on the Gophers’ first six shots. Wisconsin (14-15-4, 8-11-3-1) got their lone goal from Trent Frederic before Rem Pitlick scored two, Tyler Sheehy one and Jack Ramsey the final tally of the night.
“It’s huge to get the start we had, three on first six shots, force them to chase the game,” Minnesota coach Don Lucia said.
Mat Robson got his fifth consecutive start and made 23 saves on 24 shots to earn his sixth victory with Minnesota. The sophomore goalie from Ontario has a 1.68 goals-against average and a .940 save percentage in his nine appearances this season.
“Our team did a real good job just keeping them to the perimeter, making my job really easy,” Robson said. “I felt like they made me look really good all weekend.”
Robson said the team has been talking about carrying a playoff mentality from here on out, winning allows them to advance to the next weekend and that’s will be their mindset going forward.
Lucia shook up the lines headed into the border battle trying to get Bristedt going by pairing him with Casey Mittelstadt and to rouse Pitlick by pairing him with Mike Szmatula. The moves paid off as Bristedt had an assist on Friday to go along with a goal and assist Saturday, and as Pitlick led the team with 11 shots on the weekend while getting two goals and an assist Saturday.
Lucia said that Friday’s win was obviously important, but going forward it might have been just as important to going the momentum into Saturday and he was impressed how his team was into the game emotionally and showed they were vested from the start. The Gophers killed off short-handed situations and one of the nation’s lowest ranked power plays scored on three of seven opportunities on Saturday.
The sweep was the second for Minnesota at Kohl Center in the last three seasons and keeps Minnesota at ninth in the PairWise Rankings headed into their final four regular season games.
Notre Dame has already clinched the conference regular season title and first round bye with 50 points and Ohio State has clinched home ice for the first round with 37 points.
The Gophers have 29 points in league play and are in a battle for home ice during the first round of the Big Ten playoffs where the top three teams get to host a best-of-three series. Minnesota has two games in hand over both third place Michigan 32 points and fifth place Wisconsin 28 points.
The Gophers need a few more wins to secure a postseason berth, and they’ll face the sixth team in the PairWise Rankings and second in the conference, Ohio State, at Mariucci Arena and then the 17th team in the PairWise Rankings and sixth in the conference, Penn State, on the road the following weekend.