ALBANY, N.Y.—Wisconsin had waited two weeks to play a hockey game and 35 years to play Ohio State. It is appropriate, then, that Friday's matchup in an East Regional semifinal here had everything that could be asked for in an NCAA tournament game. There were close calls, great saves and it took more than 72 minutes to determine a winner. Simply put, it was worth the wait.
The Badgers (22-12-8) and Buckeyes could not beat each other through 60 minutes. In fact, they could not even score on one another in 60 minutes of regulation, the first time in NCAA tournament history that a game had ended regulation scoreless.
But 72:03 into the first-round tournament game, senior tri-captain Dan Boeser became the hero for Wisconsin, scoring his eighth goal of the season and the biggest of his career.
The goal took a team effort. Ross Carlson skated the puck into the zone and dropped it off to fellow freshman forward Robbie Earl, who fired it on net from the left of Buckeye goalie Dave Caruso. The netminder extend his right leg and made the initial save, but the rebound caromed right to Boeser, who put it in the wide open net to give Wisconsin the 1-0 victory.
"I can't say enough about the way our team competed tonight," Boeser said. "We just battled hard and tried to get as many shots on goal as possible and thankfully I got a nice rebound right in front and put it home."
The two teams battled back and forth the entire game; it was fitting that such a close game would come down to the just one goal. Perhaps the 12 previous times the Badgers had played in an overtime game this season played a role.
"You get pretty used to it after a while," Boeser said. "We've played a lot of close games this year."
This game was just as close as any. Caruso and Badger goalie Bernd Bruckler each had 28 saves. The two teams had an equal amount of opportunities. Neither team could convert on several power plays. The only difference: the Badgers live another day while the Buckeyes' season is over.
Wisconsin will next take on top-seeded Maine (31-7-3) Saturday at 5:00 p.m. CST in the East Regional Final at Pepsi Arena. The winner punch a ticket to Boston for the Frozen Four April 8-10.
After the game it was clear Ohio State (26-16-0) was not ready for the completion of its season. Caruso wore his pads to the press conference and captain forward JB Bittner kept his jersey on.
"I don't think that at any point in this heated building we had a chance to get our second wind," Buckeye coach John Markell said. "I don't think we played our best game, but I think we played a great game against a great defensive team."
It was clear throughout the night that Wisconsin the more rested club. Ohio State played three games in three nights last weekend whereas the Badgers had the weekend off.
"Three games in three nights at this level is basically unheard of," Bittner said. "Guys were just emotionally and mentally drained, but we're not using that as an excuse. They just had a little bit more energy in overtime than we did and that's what it came down to."
The game plan was there from the get-go Friday night for Wisconsin: get the puck in the zone and land as many shots on Caruso as possible. In the end, that's exactly what won them the game.
"They did a great job of blocking our attempted shots," Wisconsin coach Mike Eaves said. "We just told them to get the puck on net and good things will happen,"
Wisconsin got off on the right foot, keeping play in Ohio State's end of the ice for the majority of the first period and rattling off the first seven shots in the game as it took the Buckeyes more than seven minutes to test Bruckler.
Despite dominating the shot chart early on, the Badgers were not getting great looks. However, Nick Licari had a shot rattle off of the post with seven minutes to play in the session.
Ohio State shifted the momentum late in the period. They had a shot of their own ricochet off the post and gave Bruckler trouble over the last five minutes of the opening period.
When the buzzer sounded Wisconsin held a 13-6 shot advantage, but had nothing to show for it. Ohio State won the battle of close calls in the second period but the game remained scoreless.
Two minutes into the first period Bruckler left his post and came out close to the blue line to play the puck, only to have his own defenseman knock him down. Ohio State's Matt Waddell fired a shot at the empty net from the neutral zone and it went in, but the goal would not count as Bittner was offside on the play.
With less than 12 minutes to play in the first period Kenny Bernard hit the pipe, but the bounces were just not going the way of the Buckeyes.
"Sometimes it just comes down to a bounce of the puck and that's exactly what happened tonight," Markell said.
Wisconsin got perhaps its best chance with little more than three minutes to play in the first session when freshman Ross Carlson fired a shot right on, but Caruso was there with the glove save.
Bruckler answered back with a save of his own just a minute later, stopping the one-time chance of senior forward Scott May.
Both teams seemed sluggish in the slow second period and it was going to take the last 20 minutes to decide the victor. The building was beginning to heat up, a factor that would further enhance the Buckeyes' fatigue.
The third period went back and forth but neither team could do much on offense. The teams combined for just three shots in the first 13 minutes of the period.
With less than four minutes to play, the Badgers got their best chance of the period. After a good sequence of passes, Dowell took a shot as he and his teammates crashed the net, but Caruso was able to hang on.
The Buckeyes quickly retaliated. Bernard got yet another shot on net, but Bruckler stopped it and Ryan Suter controlled the rebound.
The buzzer sounded the end of a scoreless regulation. The Zamboni came out and resurfaced again, and by that time the building was so warm the referees had to give the ice a few extra minutes to freeze up.
The teams continued to battle back and forth well into the overtime. Bernard had another early chance which Bruckler took care of, then he stopped a shot by senior forward Chris Olsgard soon after.
Six minutes into the overtime Bourque took a high-sticking penalty which could have spelled the end of the Badgers' season, but Bruckler and the penalty killers took care of their fourth disadvantage of the night.
Four minutes later Boeser netted the game-winner.
Wisconsin is now 5-0-8 in overtime games this season and the shutout was Bruckler's fourth this season.
"I've been there before where I have to be sharp," Bruckler said. "I just have to be mentally tough and tell myself to stay in the now, in the present, and be there for my team."
Boeser got the game-winning, overtime goal for the second time this season. The first came in Wisconsin's season-opening 4-3 victory over Nebraska-Omaha that advanced the Badgers to the final game of the Maverick Stampede tournament to face who else, but Maine.