All’s not well, but it ended well

A last-minute goal by Barry Tallackson gave Minnesota a split at No. 3 Wisconsin.

Ben Goessling

;The Gophers found it Saturday night.

Yes, Minnesota could follow its 5-3 win over Wisconsin on Saturday by sliding right back into its monthlong funk. But it appears more likely the Gophers put together the kind of season-turning win Don Lucia’s teams seem to find every February.

Trailing 3-2 at the start of the third period, the Gophers tied the game two minutes into the frame and battled through a riveting 17 minutes with the Badgers before Barry Tallackson scored the game-winner with 42 seconds left in front of a a sellout crowd of 15,237.

The victory salvaged a weekend split after the eighth-ranked Gophers squandered numerous opportunities in a 3-1 loss Friday.

And in many ways, it was a perfect bookend to the Gophers’ season series with the Badgers, rivaling the opening game of the series in terms of its potential impact on the Gophers’ season.

“I’m hoping this will be that big win we’ve had the last few years,” Lucia said. “We knew this was huge going in, and this is the best we’ve felt in a long time.”

Minnesota erased a third-period deficit and beat Wisconsin All-American goaltender Bernd Bruckler in the final minutes for the second time this year.

To put that in perspective, Wisconsin has only lost two third-period leads all year – Saturday night and against Minnesota on Nov. 4 at Mariucci Arena.

And the way Minnesota (20-11-0, 13-9-0 WCHA) pulled it off was almost exactly the same.

There was Ryan Potulny rebounding from a 10-game slump to net his second and third goals of the weekend, including the game-tying tally in the third period.

There was Kellen Briggs making a boatload of big saves – albeit in a substitute role – and holding firm when the Gophers defense faltered.

And there were Gino Guyer and Tallackson, reunited after a one-game separation, making the kind of hustle plays that turned Minnesota’s first game with Wisconsin.

“It was a loose puck by Gino. He kind of chipped it out there,” Tallackson said of the game-winner. “I beat the defenseman there, took him wide and chipped it in.”

Minnesota scored first in each period Saturday – a game that featured three lead changes and three ties.

The Gophers trailed 3-2 after Adam Burish deflected home Tom Gilbert’s shot from the point at 8:26 in the second period.

But 70 seconds later, Justin Johnson was lifted for Briggs, and the Gophers were never the same.

Briggs made 14 saves, including a big stop on A.J. Degenhardt’s short-handed breakaway with 4:11 left.

“We were just sick of losing, and we couldn’t quite figure out what it was,” Briggs said. “The team was working hard, and I just wanted to give them a chance.”

Friday, however, it was Bruckler who made the difference in a convincing Badgers win, turning away a handful of Gophers opportunities in the first period.

Bruckler didn’t allow a goal until Potulny scored to make it 3-1 Badgers with 8:24 left in the game.

By then, it was far too late.

Third-ranked Wisconsin controlled the game after a scoreless first period, scoring twice in the second frame and taking a 3-0 lead just more than five minutes into the third.

Wisconsin (20-7-1, 15-5-0) employed its neutral zone trap to near perfection, suffocating Minnesota’s forwards near the boards and reaping numerous scoring chances off turnovers.

“That’s the way they like to play,” Lucia said. “We generated some chances, but we didn’t do enough in the second period.”

But from an emotional standpoint, the weekend series felt almost like a sweep.

And the Gophers have a defining third period Saturday night to thank for that.

“It’s not just the rivalry. We needed the win,” forward Danny Irmen said. “It definitely checks what kind of character we have, and now we know we can do it again.”