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Wisconsin Badgers rally twice to beat MN Gophers

With an honored group of guests looking on, the Minnesota Gophers’ power was as good as it’s been all season. The paid attendance was the largest in the history of their home rink. And the intensity was at a season high with archrival Wisconsin in town.

It was all close to perfect. Except for the final score.

Wisconsin’s early third-period goal was the turning point in a seesaw battle as the Badgers came from behind twice to beat Gophers 4-3 on Saturday night at 3M Arena at Mariucci.

On a night when the Gophers honored the 1979 NCAA champion team, their archrivals dampened the party when Peter Tischke’s shot beat Mat Robson’s glove to snap a tie and give Wisconsin its first win in more than a month.

“We had some guys who had great games tonight and really raised it up,” Gophers coach Bob Motzko said. “The game was going to be what we thought. It was going to be toe-to-toe.”

The Gophers (10-11-4, 7-6-3-0 Big Ten) got a pair of goals from Rem Pitlick and scored on their first three power plays but surrendered a pair of leads and have now lost three of their past four. They also got a goal from Gates and 28 saves from Robson.

Trailing 1-0 and 3-2 in the second period, the Badgers (9-11-4, 5-5-4-1) got an goal and an assist each from Dominick Mersch and Linus Weissbach to snap a five-game winless streak. Goalie Daniel Lebedeff had 29 saves for Wisconsin.

Despite neither team being above .500 at the opening faceoff, the intensity of the border rivalry was on display early, with a Blake McLaughlin hard rush to the Wisconsin net producing a fracas that put four players in the penalty box and gave the Badgers the game’s first power play.

The first Gophers power play produced the only goal of the opening 20 minutes, when Pitlick threaded a 25-foot shot through a crowd and beyond Lebedeff.

Wisconsin tied the score early in the second, despite no naked-eye view of the puck in the net. During a scramble in front of Robson, the goalie looked to have smothered the puck, and officials on the scene declared no goal. The Badgers insisted the puck had crossed the goal line, and after a lengthy review, their claims were upheld, producing a 1-1 tie. The Badgers took the lead after a scramble in front of Robson, but it didn’t last long.

The Gophers’ second power play needed just 20 seconds to forge a tie when Gates ripped a shot from between the circles that eluded Lebedeff on the glove side. The Gophers had two shots hit the post in quick succession, but instead of a two-goal lead, they got another tie when Messner was left alone in front of the net and fooled Robson with a hard shot.

“With a young team, you’re hoping the response is the right way, and fortunately our leaders and our players were able to put last night behind us,” Badgers coach Tony Granato said. The Gophers won the series opener 9-4 on Friday.

The third Gophers power play took just 15 seconds to convert, when Pitlick got his team-leading 15th — and his seventh goal in the past seven games — off a cross-ice feed from Brannon McManus.

“You know what you’re getting out of Rem every night. He’s so consistent,” said Gophers co-captain Tyler Sheehy. “He’s on a goal streak here, in the last five games or so. He’s on fire. I just can’t say enough about the way he plays.”

The Gophers were without freshman Sammy Walker for the first time this season. Walker, the 2018 Mr. Hockey winner from Edina, had scored twice Friday but also took a shot to the head from a Badgers player late in the game. The official reason for his absence was not disclosed by the team.

The paid attendance of 10,686 was the largest in the 25 years of the home rink.

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