MADISON, Wis.—After tying Minnesota-Duluth Friday night, the Badger men's hockey team no longer can aspire for second place in the Western Collegiate Hockey Association standings. But that does not mean that Saturday's regular-season finale has lost meaning or that Wisconsin does not have plenty to take away from Friday's 2-2 result.
"I think our team has the attitude that we battled back and we are coming away with a positive attitude," senior defenseman Dan Boeser said.
Indeed, there are plenty of positives. Wisconsin held the top-ranked offensive team in the conference to two goals and shut out the nation's top power play. And in following with this season's theme, the Badgers again persevered for a late game turnaround.
After falling behind 2-1 in a less-than-spirited second period, Wisconsin came back in the third, in large part due to the play of goalie Bernd Bruckler, who stopped 15 shots in the final 20 minutes of regulation.
The Badgers, who had myriad chances fall by the wayside throughout the game, got the break they needed when a fight following a Wisconsin scoring opportunity resulted in a 5-on-3 power play for the Badgers with three minutes, 33 seconds left in regulation.
Less than a minute later, Boeser fired a one-timer from above the circles that hit Bulldog netminder Isaac Reichmuth's outstretched glove and found the net.
"I thought the guys showed great heart and stayed with things," Wisconsin coach Mike Eaves said. "When the game was on the line I thought we came back with some of our high energy again."
Minnesota-Duluth coach Scott Sandelin chose not to comment on the surprising nature of a two-man advantage so late in a game, though a wry grin betrayed his displeasure.
His team, though, locked up second place in the WCHA with the point earned Friday, moving to 18-7-2 in conference play and 22-10-4 overall. North Dakota, meanwhile, clinched the MacNaughton Cup Friday with a 5-1 win over Michigan Tech.
Wisconsin is now 14-6-7, 20-9-8 after its school-record setting 12th overtime game of the season. The Badgers are 4-0-8 in extra sessions.
"I think it's become normal for us to play in those situations," Eaves said. "I don't think we get nervous, I don't think we get rattled. If anything, we play to a little bit of a higher level. We have been successful there and in the long run that is going to serve us well when it gets to the playoffs because all of the games are going to be like what we saw tonight."
The Bulldogs' prolific offense was held largely in check, but did generate a number of high-quality chances throughout the game, frequently getting the puck deep in Wisconsin's defensive zone and creating plenty of traffic in front of Bruckler. Sophomore defenseman Steve Czech took advantage of such congestion in the first period, his shot finding the net before Bruckler saw it coming.
The Bulldogs built a 2-1 lead in the second period when junior wing Josh Miskovich knocked a loose puck away from Bruckler and senior defenseman Jay Hardwick chipped it over Bruckler's pad.
Wisconsin, though, got the best of the special teams battle. Duluth entered the game having scored 11 power-play goals on 30 opportunities in its last six games, while only allowing two goals in 31 chances during that span. Friday, though, the Bulldogs were 0-for-4, while Wisconsin was 2-for-7 by its count (1-for-7 officially), scoring its first goal just three seconds after the conclusion of Duluth penalty.
"By our stats if the guy is coming out of the box he's not in the play yet," Eaves said. "I still think that we could have been more effective, or more positive, on our power play. They did a nice job of creating pressure. We didn't handle the pressure very well. But the final analysis is we get two power-play goals. The goals were timely and well-deserved."
Wisconsin had a plethora of golden opportunities go awry:
- Robbie Earl had a point-blank chance early in the first period, but Reichmuth made the save
- Wisconsin's Rene Bourque beat Reichmuth with a wraparound at the 7:50 mark in the first period, but the whistle blew about a second before the puck crossed the line due to penalties occurring well behind the play.
- Also in the first period, A.J. Degenhardt hit a pipe from just outside the crease and center Jake Dowell did the same right off an offensive zone faceoff. In the second period, Earl hit a pipe of his own.
- Earl and Ryan MacMurchy each had a breakaway opportunity thwarted by Reichmuth. Nick Licari nearly had a breakaway when he cut behind Duluth's defense near their blue line, but a pass from behind Wisconsin's net glanced off his stick and Reichmuth played the puck back up ice.
- With about 3:30 left on the game clock, Earl cut toward net and found Boeser on a 2-on-2 break, but Reichmuth made the save.
The scrum, though, broke out shortly after Boeser's chance, leading to three minor penalties for Duluth and one for Wisconsin.