Strong third period earns Badger win

In spite of itself, Wisconsin sweeps Minnesota-Duluth to move into first place in WCHA

MADISON—For five periods of this weekend's series between Wisconsin and Minnesota-Duluth, it was hard to believe that two ranked teams were playing. By the third period of Saturday's game, however, it was not hard to spot the No. 4 team in the country.

Robbie Earl scored his team-leading ninth goal of the season two minutes into the final session, leading the Badgers to another 3-2 win over the Bulldogs at the Kohl Center. With the series sweep, Wisconsin (12-4-0, 9-3-0 Western Collegiate Hockey Association) has now won seven of its last eight and put itself in a strong position to take the No. 1 spot in the national rankings, in addition to surpassing North Dakota for first-place in the WCHA.

After spending a long stretches of the second period shorthanded, the tide shifted for the Badgers when Duluth defender Todd Smith was sent to the penalty box half a minute into the third. A little over a minute later Earl fired home a rebound to give the home team the final lead and propel them to their first strong period of the weekend.

"Good teams do find a way to win, even when they're not playing their A game," Wisconsin forward Nick Licari said. "We got four points against a quality opponent. It's very important for us."

With the touted Badger offense struggling to score most of the game, Wisconsin again turned to its goaltending fixture, Bernd Bruckler, who turned in yet another high-level performance. With the Austrian keeper anchoring a tough Wisconsin defense, the Bulldogs (7-7-2, 5-5-0 WCHA) came up empty on six power play chances, while their Badger counterparts scored twice on the man advantage.

"Obviously it was the difference," UMD head coach Scott Sandelin said. "They got two power play goals, we didn't get any … We didn't give them anything for two periods."

The Badger penalty killers made their biggest impact midway through the second stanza, when the Bulldogs had six almost continuous minutes on the man advantage. Though Wisconsin was stuck on the defensive, the span torpedoed Duluth's chances of building confidence for its struggling offense.

It is not often that a team equalizes within the final second of a period, yet Saturday it happened for the second time in as many games. Adam Burish sent the puck trickling through UMD goalie Isaac Riechmuth's legs with only a sixth of a second left in the first, negating the visitors' first lead of the series and salvaging a mediocre period for the Badgers.

"We got two goals in the first but we didn't play very well," UW head coach Mike Eaves said. "We didn't do the simple things that we talked about doing — getting it in, getting it out."

UMD gained the lead with two unanswered goals in a one-and-a-half minute stretch midway through the opening session. After T.J. Caig evened up the score, Bulldog top scorer Marco Peluso put his team on top 2-1 by flipping the puck over Bruckler's shoulder.

The Badgers' first goal came courtesy of Matt Ford, making only his fourth appearance in a Wisconsin sweater. The freshman tallied his first collegiate goal on the power play off a one-timer.

"(Jake) Dowell and (Andrew) Joudrey made it easy for me, I just had to put it away," Ford said, giving credit to his new linemates.

Next week the Badgers travel west for a series with Minnesota State-Mankato. With their next ranked opponent not coming until February, Wisconsin will be looking to find some consistency and hit its stride in time for a run into the postseason.

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