En route to compiling one of the best home records during its 16 seasons at the Kohl Center, the University of Wisconsin men’s hockey team has cultivated a vibe of resiliency.
Woven into a 13-2-1 mark through January — the third-most home wins for the Badgers since they became full-time tenants in 1998 — are five instances where they were tied or trailing in the third period and managed to avoid a loss.
Insights from those outings were invaluable Thursday night when 12th-ranked UW rose up again, seizing a 2-1 Big Ten Conference victory over top-ranked Minnesota before an announced crowd of 8,908.
The Badgers were outplayed in a lot of ways by the first-place team in the league, but found a way to register their first victory over a No. 1 team since 2011 and move into sole possession of second place heading into the series finale tonight.
“We have learned how to finish games,” UW junior defenseman Jake McCabe said. “You have to stay on course.”
McCabe accounted for the winning conversion with 6 minutes, 13 seconds remaining in the third period and essentially atoned for a giveaway that led to the lone goal for Minnesota.
Senior defenseman and captain Frankie Simonelli (power play) came through with the other conversion, while junior goaltender Joel Rumpel was superb on the way to 31 saves for UW (15-8-2 overall, 6-4-1 with 19 points in league play).
The Badgers have had some gut-checks this season at home, where their 14-2-1 record is the second-best in the Kohl Center era. They were tied in the third period in games against Northern Michigan, Penn State, Colorado College and Alaska-Anchorage and found a way to win one-goal decisions. They also rallied from a two-goal deficit in the third against Lake Superior State to earn an overtime draw.
“We’ve played better here and lost,” UW coach Mike Eaves said. “It’s funny how the game goes sometimes. Tonight we didn’t play very well and found a way to win.”
The outcome had some symmetry. The Gophers (19-3-5, 8-1-2, 26 points) came into the series riding the longest unbeaten streak (10-0-4) in the country that began Nov. 29 and 30 with a sweep of the Badgers in Minneapolis.
“We definitely didn’t play our best hockey out there,” Simonelli said after handing Minnesota its first outright loss in Big Ten play. “When you find ways to win like that, it definitely helps out.”
The Gophers piled up a 32-19 edge in shots — allowing only three in the third period — and controlled the pace of the game throughout.
“Playing well gives you a chance to win,” Minnesota coach Don Lucia said. “That doesn’t guarantee you’re going to win.”
UW survived thanks to a rare perfect outing from its special teams. It converted on its only power play and was 4-for-4 killing penalties.
The Badgers came into the series struggling something awful on the power play. They were 1-for-21 over the previous seven outings, had been shut out in nine of their past 11 outings and were ranked last in the Big Ten at 2-for-30 (6.7 percent).
That worm turned a bit 14:47 into the first. Simonelli leaned into a one-timer from the left point and had the puck burrow between the pads of goaltender Adam Wilcox (17 saves).
The Gophers got it back in nifty fashion at 17:20. Center Kyle Rau didn’t beat McCabe to the puck below the UW goal line, but lifted his stick enough to create a turnover. Rau pounced on it and quickly fed left winger Taylor Cammarata for a shot from the low right circle that beat Rumpel.
“Definitely my fault completely,” McCabe said. “He beat me to the puck. Turnover. Bang. Goal. Unacceptable.”
After winning nine straight starts — the longest streak at UW since 1990 when Duane Derksen won nine in a row — Rumpel was without a victory in his past three outings even though his play didn’t drop off.
His biggest save this night came on a breakaway by Rau early in the third. Rau tried to tuck the puck between Rumpel’s pads.
“I touched it with my stick and barely caught it with my pad,” Rumpel said. “I’m fortunate it stayed under my pad.”
Two great individual plays added up to the winning goal: one by freshman right winger Jedd Soleway, the other by McCabe.
Soleway angled right to left behind the Minnesota cage, controlling the puck while keeping defenseman Jake Bischoff on his outer shoulder. When Soleway emerged on the other side of the net, he got off a one-handed pass through the slot to McCabe.
McCabe began moving side to side to create a shooting lane from the right circle. He beat Wilcox with a wrist shot just as traffic was forming in front of the net.
“It started with Jedd,” McCabe said. “A big-time play for a freshman.”
Minnesota 1 0 0 — 1
Wisconsin 1 0 1 — 2
First period: W — Simonelli 6 (LaBate, Schulze), 14:47 (pp). M — Cammarata 6 (Rau), 17:20. Penalties: Holl, M, 13:04; Wittchow.
Second period: Penalties: Little, W, 11:37.
Third period: W — McCabe 7 (Soleway), 13:47. Penalties: LaBate, W, 3:48; Simonelli, W, 19:32.
Saves: M (Wilcox 5-10-2) 17; W (Rumpel 6-15-10) 31.
Power plays: M 0-for-3; W 1-for-1. Att. — 8,908.