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No.14 Wisconsin blew a 2-1 third-period lead on Friday night, allowing No.8 St. Cloud State to score three third-period goals to win the opener. The Huskies' win allowed them to clinch a share of the MacNaughton Cup (given to the WCHA regular season champion) and eliminated the Badgers.
Wisconsin was in the same situation Saturday (up 2-1 entering the final period), but the Badgers added a much-needed insurance goal in the final minute and were able to beat the Huskies, 3-2. UW won for the first time in eight meetings against SCSU (1-6-1).
What's the Impact
Needing only one point on Saturday night to clinch home ice, Wisconsin had home ice locked up before its game was over with Nebraska-Omaha losing. Still, UW did it the honorable way by winning and clinched home ice in the first round of WCHA playoffs for the first time in three years.
From a national perspective, Wisconsin began the weekend 20th in the PairWise rankings, ended Saturday night tied for 18th and stayed that way following Denver's 6-1 win over Alaska-Anchorage Sunday. With only 16 teams making the field, UW has more work to do to get back on the right side of the bubble.
No matter how the season ends, starting 1-7-2 overall to here is a remarkable turnaround for Wisconsin, and credit should go to Eaves and the staff.
Who was the Weekend MVP
Michael Mersch is the hottest player on the team and he's playing his best at the right time with five goals in his past four. Mersch scored twice on Saturday to jump to third nationally with 22 goals. More importantly, he atoned for a scoreless Friday night in which is plus/minus ratio was minus-1 and he attempted only two shots.
Mersch has registered at least one point in six of his past seven games.
Three Areas of Excitement
Power Play: With only 11 goals in the first 103 shifts, Wisconsin's power play has found a surge over the last three games with three goals in its last 10 shifts. UW got one power play goal in the series (on Friday) night and might be building some momentum heading into the playoffs.
Simonelli: The junior defenseman's offense is not his trademark, but it was a big piece of the puzzle Saturday. Simonelli scored 43 seconds into the game to give the Badgers an early lead and had a great outlet feed to Mersch, setting up an odd-man rush and a backhand goal to regain a one-goal UW lead. Since scoring only two points since Nov.24, Simonelli has four points in his last four games.
Shutting down the Top Dogs: The Huskies top line of Ben Hanowski, Drew LeBlanc, and Kalle Kossila combined for just one shot on goal and a minus-8 plus-minus rating. Even better, the Badgers limited SCSU's power play, which includes those players, to only two shots on goal over four opportunities.
Three Areas of Concern
Rumpel: After allowing five goals at UNO, Rumpel took the loss on Friday night after allowing two goals he probably should have stopped in the third period. One was deflected off a defenseman and Rumpel, who was sliding to his blockers side, couldn't recover. The game-winning goal was even weaker by a player who had only four goals on the year. The slow shot trickled through Rumpel's pads and into the net, as it appears the sophomore wasn't flush with the post.
Rumpel was better on Saturday night stopping 18 of 20 shots, but the sophomore has got to be on now all the time heading into the playoffs.
Momentum: Wisconsin forward Tyler Barnes said the team has been playing do-or-die hockey for three months. Now the Badgers have won four of five league games and have a head of steam going into the postseason. How will that change the approach of this team? Will it? Won't it? Whatever the case, UW should change a thing, even with momentum, because the Badgers are playing solid hockey.
No Beer Garden?:The Kohl Center will not have a beer garden next weekend for the WCHA playoffs. That's a huge issue.
"Where we've come from, and to achieve home ice as a reward for their blood, sweat and tears and sticking through hard times, it's a great thing for them." – Wisconsin coach Mike Eaves
Wisconsin (17-12-7, 13-8-7 WCHA) finishes with the fourth seed and will face ninth seed in a best-of-3 weekend series at the Kohl Center. Wisconsin skated at Minnesota Duluth back on Oct. 26-27, posting a 2-0 victory and a 2-2 tie against the Bulldogs.
Despite its record, Minnesota Duluth (14-17-5, 10-13-5) is coming off a sweep at home against Omaha. The Bulldogs rallied twice, sparked by a four-goal second period, for a 5-4 win Friday. One day later, Duluth tied a school record with five power-play goals, scoring on its first four chances and scored two goals per period in a 6-0 rout. The Bulldogs have won a season-high four in a row and have a five game unbeaten streak.