Wisconsin (21-8-2, 16-6-1 Western Collegiate Hockey Association) utilized a sterling third period to rout No. 3 Colorado College 5-1 at the Kohl Center here. Nick Licari scored twice for the home team and goaltending stalwart Bernd Bruckler tallied 39 saves and went over 57 minutes before surrendering a goal to the nation's fourth-ranked offense.
The Badgers picked up the win despite being out-shot 17-6 in the first period and 40-25 overall.
"It's definitely nice to know that in the first period, when we're not playing good and the pucks not bouncing our way, you have a goaltender who can make saves for you," Badger defender Tom Gilbert said. "We can't ask any more out of Bruckler."
With the win Wisconsin drew within three points of first place in the WCHA. Colorado College (24-6-3, 17-6-2) dropped into a first-place tie with Denver (22-6-2, 17-4-2), which overcame a 4-2 deficit late in the second period to top Minnesota-Duluth 5-4 Friday night.
The Badgers' victory ends a three-game winless streak and comes at a time when Wisconsin seemed to be feeling the effects of its brutal February slate. For whatever weaknesses the Badgers have exhibited in their average performances against ranked competition at times this season, few were present Friday.
Colorado College out-shot Wisconsin 30-15 in the first two periods. But despite the fierce pressure that comes from playing against Marty Sertich and Brett Sterling – the top two scorers in the nation – UW's defense held the CC juggernaut in check, employing a stout forecheck and denying its opponents space and quality scoring chances.
"There wasn't even a great sense that we were going to score at times," CC head coach Scott Owens said. "They did a good job at blocking shots, so that we weren't getting a lot through ... It's tough to win on the road that way."
Wisconsin's best defender was between the pipes. The Tiger forwards had no answer for Bruckler's superb performance and were held to a single goal for only the third time this season. The effort earned the All-American netminder his 50th career win.
"To me the story of the game is the fact that Bernd Bruckler gave us a chance to get our legs and get used to [CC's] quickness and abilities," Eaves said.
Whereas the Badgers were lucky to escape the first stanza unscathed, their effort in the third was completely dominant. A late-game power play conversion from Sterling was the Tigers' only consolation in a period that saw them surrender four goals and take a serious step back in their race for the WCHA title.
Licari capped the rout with his second consecutive score, beating Colorado College goalie Matt Zaba (20 saves, five goals against) one-on-one. The breakaway was made possible by a skillful pass from junior Ryan MacMurchy, who finished with a goal and two assists
High school teammates Ross Carlson and Licari struck within a minute of each other early in the third to give the Badgers an impressive 4-0 lead over CC. Carlson was the beneficiary of good fortune on his score. His attempted centering pass ricocheted of the skate of Tiger forward Brandon Polich in the low slot and slid past the unsuspecting Zaba inside the near post.
The Badgers gained some breathing space with a goal from Ryan MacMurchy less than a minute into the third period. MacMurchy scored after stealing the puck from Tiger sophomore Brian Salcido, sweeping in on net and shelving a backhander over Zaba's shoulder that resulted in a 2-0 lead for the home team.
"[Wisconsin] got that goal to give them some energy in the first shift of the third period," Owens said. "Then the one goes off Polich's [skate] and they're off to the races."
Matt Auffrey scored his first goal since the opening weekend to put the Badgers up 1-0 midway into the second period. On a power play, the freshman recovered a deflected puck in front of the goal and flipped it over the Zaba's shoulder to seize the lead. Auffrey's score leaves the Badgers with a mark of 17-1-1 this season when scoring first.
After seeing their McNaughton Cup hopes take a significant hit, the Tigers can be expected to bring a resurgent effort to the ice Saturday evening.
"The thing that I think our group will focus on is the ability of getting off to a good start where we don't have to rely on Bernd," Eaves said. "If we can get off to a good start I think we'll be a better team tomorrow night."
The Badgers will attempt to ride their wave of momentum and pull out their first conference sweep in a month when the series closes out Saturday at 7:07 pm.