MINNEAPOLIS — Junior forward Tom Serratore doesn’t remember much after scoring just his second goal of the season for No. 3 Minnesota in Saturday night’s 3-1 win against Wisconsin.
That’s what scoring a game-winner against a rival and firing up the home crowd will do for a fourth-line grinder.
Serratore, who has just six goals in his 76 career games for the Gophers, scored just under 6 minutes into the third period to lift Minnesota (7-2-2, 4-2-2 WCHA) over the Badgers (1-5-2, 1-3-2) on Saturday, giving the Gophers the series after Friday’s tie.
“My brain kind of went blank after that happened,” Serratore said. “The atmosphere was so loud and the guys started jumping on me. Great feeling, for sure.”
Nick Bjugstad added his sixth goal of the season, Kyle Rau finished the scoring with an empty-netter and freshman goaltender Adam Wilcox made 16 saves for Minnesota, which won for just the second time in its past five games and helped send Wisconsin home at the end of a chippy affair between the two rivals that featured 18 penalties on Saturday, including 10 for roughing.
The Gophers’ usually potent offense led by Erik Haula (14 points), Bjugstad (nine) and Rau (10) hasn’t produced at its normal level, leaving coach Don Lucia to stress the need for secondary scoring to step up. Serratore was one of the most unlikely contributors.
Serratore hadn’t scored since the second game of the season and he spent Saturday on the fourth line centering two defensemen, Jake Parenteau and Justin Holl. But Serratore came off the bench during a line change and Haula found him with the puck. Serratore used a defenseman for a screen and put his shot past Badgers goaltender Joel Rumpel (25 saves).
“For us, it was great to see a guy that doesn’t score a lot score a big goal,” Lucia said. “Obviously that was the pivotal play in the game. He came off the bench; sometimes a guy comes off a line change and (it’s) right time, right place.”
Serratore, who took a hit to the head in Friday’s game, was back in the lineup Saturday and came through with the big goal.
“Who knows where my brain was at tonight because of (the hit),” Serratore said. “I was fortunate enough to put (his shot) away. Feels good, feels good to get a game-winner.”
It felt good to his teammates too.
“You watch him all game; he’s a tough player and he’s gritty,” Bjugstad said. “He does all the little things right. Eventually it’s going to pay off like it did there. He’s had some big goals for this program. It’s great to see a hard-working, gritty guy get a goal like that.”
Bjugstad, the first-round NHL pick that made the decision to return to Minnesota this season, got the Gophers going with his blast on a breakaway, easing perhaps some of the tension as goals have been hard to come by for Minnesota, despite regularly peppering the net with shots.
The Gophers had 43 shots on Friday and managed just two goals. They were 1 of 5 on the power play. Bjugstad had been feeling the pressure, despite going just two games since his last goal.
“Coaches have been on me to not get down on myself, that’s something I’ve got to learn as well,” Bjugstad said. “So, yeah, we just stuck with it tonight. We had some chances, but thankfully we capitalized on those bigger chances.”
Wilcox did the rest, stopping all 10 shots he faced over the final two periods, including a 3-on-1 save in the second period. Ryan Little scored the lone goal for the Badgers short-handed in the first period.
“He’s been terrific all season long,” Lucia said of Wilcox. “He gave up three goals this weekend, two basically off rebounds and the pass across on the 2-on-1 he didn’t have a chance on any of them. He gives us a chance every night so far this year.”