Badgers drop border battle against No. 4 Minnesota

Gophers now No. 1 in Big Ten standings

Looking to take sole possession of first place in the Big Ten standings, the Wisconsin men’s hockey team made a two-goal comeback at Mariucci Arena on Saturday night.

Unfortunately for the 19 th -ranked Badgers (18-11-1, 11-5-0-0 Big Ten), they came up just short as No. 4 Minnesota (21-9-2, 12-4-0-0) scored late in the third period to defeat Wisconsin by a score of 3-2.

“I’m really proud of our guys this weekend, they were outstanding,” head coach Tony Granato said. “We had our chances to tie it, we had our chances to win it. We fell down 2-0, we didn’t quit and kept coming and coming but they made the play in the third period that went in our net.”

Wisconsin nearly came back again in the final minute of regulation. With its goaltender pulled, Wisconsin’s Grant Besse saw a shot slowed just enough by Minnesota goaltender Eric Shierhorn that reached the goal line before it was cleared by the Minnesota defense, sealing the Badgers’ 3-2 defeat.

UW found themselves in a 1-0 hole, 8:24 into the opening frame, as Rem Pitlick score his 11th goal of the year. The Gophers added to their lead late in the period on a power-play goal from Ryan Norman to put the Badgers down two heading into the second period.

Similar to Friday night, the Cardinal and White fought back in the second period, scoring two power-play goals to tie the game at 2-2.

The first tally was scored by Luke Kunin, netting his 20th goal of the campaign 5:18 into the period. The captain’s tally was assisted by Trent Frederic and Cameron Hughes. Kunin’s goal marked the first time a UW player has scored at least 20 goals since Michael Mersch scored 22 goals in the 2013-14 season.

“When you need offense, he’s able to get the team going or contribute a big goal,” Granato said. “That’s why he’s wearing the ‘C’, that’s why he was captain of the World Juniors, that’s why he’s a first round draft pick, he’s an elite player.”

Wisconsin knotted the game with just 15.4 seconds left in the period on Jake Linhart’s sixth goal of the year. The defenseman threw the puck at the net and was able to find twine with Matt Ustaski setting a screen in front of Gophers’ goaltender Eric Schierhorn.

Minnesota and UW headed into the final period of play tied at 2-2 with Matt Jurusik stopping 19 out of 21 shots faced.

Wisconsin continued to push for a go-ahead goal, but it was Minnesota who found the game-winner with 5:06 to go in the game on Justin Kloos’ 17th goal of the year.

Jurusik ended the night with 27 saves on 30 shots.

With the loss and series split, the Badgers fall into second place in the Big Ten standings, three points behind the Gophers and five points ahead of third-place Penn State, who swept Michigan State this weekend. Wisconsin has four regular-season games remaining.

Wisconsin will travel to University Park next weekend to take on the Nittany Lions for a weekend series on March 3-4. Friday’s game will begin at 6 p.m. CT and will be streamed on BTN Plus and on the radio on WIBA-AM 1310. Saturday’s tilt will start at 7 p.m. CT and will be televised on ASN, streamed on BTN2Go and broadcast on the radio on WIBA-AM 1310 and the Badgers Sports Network.