Women’s hockey: Abbey Murphy spearheads Gophers to 5-3 win over Wisconsin

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It had been nearly nine months since the Gophers and Wisconsin Badgers last saw each other. Absence did not make the heart grow fonder.

Friday night at Ridder Arena, with the sting of losing to the Badgers in the Frozen Four last March very much on their minds, the Gophers got the upper hand in another contentious “Border Battle,” beating the Badgers 5-3 before an announced crowd of 2,794.

Gophers coach Brad Frost spoke afterward about how the high-intensity, highly skilled matchup was good for women’s hockey. Beating the defending national champions was good for the Gophers’ psyche, and as right winger Abbey Murphy said, “There’s nothing like beating them twice.”

The Gophers will get their shot at doing just that on Saturday afternoon.

The No. 3 Badgers began the season 12-0 but have since lost four of their past five. They were swept at Ohio State, when they were limited to a total of one goal in the two games. The Badgers split their series with Minnesota-Duluth last weekend.

Murphy once again led the way for the Gophers, scoring a pair of goals to give her 21 on the season. She has six goals in the past three games.

“I have the mentality of wanting to put the puck in the net,” Murphy said, “and there’s no more fun than doing that. I have the perfect linemates to do that; I feed them and they feed me. I’ve been getting comfortable and trying new things. Just trying to contribute any way I can.”

The Badgers entered the game with highest scoring offense in the country, averaging 5.5 goals per game. The Gophers kept Britta Curl, the Badgers’ leading scorer, off the scoresheet. Curl came into the game averaging 2 points per game on 12 goals and 20 assists.

“They’ve got a lot of good players,” Murphy said, “but we also have had good defensive play. We’ve been practicing that a lot these past weeks, and it’s kind of fun to see that happen — shutting down some of the top scorers in the league.

“So props to our team and our defense for doing it.”

Murphy gave the Gophers a 1-0 lead at 7:30 of the first period, using her speed to get around the Badgers defense down the right wing and tucking the puck past goaltender Jane Gervais from in tight.

The Badgers needed only 47 seconds to pull even on a goal by Maddi Wheeler. They took a 2-1 lead two minutes later with Murphy in the box serving a major penalty for slashing, when Kirsten Simms beat Gophers goaltender Lucy Morgan for her 14th goal of the season.

Murphy added a power-play goal of her own at 16:32, scoring on a one-timer from the left-wing circle.

“Obviously you don’t want to be in the box like that,” Murphy said. “It’s also a personal thing; just taking a deep breath and realizing that I’m useless in the box.”

Nelli Laitinen gave the Gophers a 3-2 lead at 7:03 of the second period when her flip shot from the left point got through traffic and beat Gervais to the short side.

Gophers junior right winger Sadie Lindsay, who scored her first career goal last Saturday, scored her second at 11:36, pushing in a rebound off a scramble in front.

The Gophers’ lead grew to 5-2 at 2:33 of the third period when Solveig Neunzert scored her first of the year.

The Badgers added a goal by Casey O’Brien at 14:02, turning what was looking like a one-sided Gophers victory into a bit of a nail-biter for the home team.

“A lot of bend but don’t break, especially in the third,” Frost said. “They made a push, which we expected. But Lucy was great in net; her first “Border Battle” after being at St. Lawrence for four years.

“There were a lot of blocked shots, a lot of big-time plays. I just loved how are kids just kept playing.”

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