Team captain junior Adam Burish's broke a 4-4 deadlock at 16:40 in the third period with a game-winning backhander that puts Wisconsin (22-11-4, 17-9-3 Western Collegiate Hockey Association) up 1-0 in its best-of-three series with the Seawolves at Alliant Energy Center Coliseum here.
"The first thing I did was look at [Earl] and [Pavelski] and I gave them a nod," Burish said in regards to the pivotal shift. "They know what that nod means, ‘Let's get this done.'"
Though achieving the desired result, however, the Badgers will feel as much relief as joy from their win. Allowing four unanswered goals, winning by one despite out-shooting the opposition 52-27 and uncharacteristically poor goaltending from all-American Bernd Bruckler are more than sufficient to put a damper on any post-game celebrations.
"The boys did a tremendous job coming back," Bruckler said. "I've obviously got to clear my head and get ready to play again. There's a lot of hockey left."
Despite seizing a 2-0 lead in the opening five minutes, the Badgers became complacent and went down 4-2 before rallying in the third with three goals to salvage the night. The Badgers allowed themselves to be worn down after a hot start and seemed at a loss as to how to handle Alaska-Anchorage's comeback.
More disturbing for the home side was the terrible performance of netminder Bernd Bruckler, who was pulled for the first time in his Madison career early in the third period. Having given up two soft goals, one the result of the puck hopping across his stick on an attempted clearance attempt, sophomore Brian Elliott was sent in to replace the UW star and managed seven saves with no goals against.
"[Bruckler]'s bailed us out, in the three years I've been here, dozens of times," Burish said. "It was time for us to pay him back. We've had our off nights and he's helped us out and tonight we helped him out."
Though Burish scored the winning goal, linemate Robbie Earl provided the heroics for Wisconsin with two goals in the third period, tying the game 4-4. After falling behind 4-2 early in the third, Earl kept the Badgers afloat with a power play score at 5:01 and then proceeded to send the puck top shelf with seven minutes remaining to bring the teams even.
"We just got back to the things we were doing in the first period," Earl said. "The reason why we didn't feel panic is because we knew what we needed to do. But to be a great team you have to play like that for 60 minutes."
Alaska-Anchorage (11-18-6, 9-16-4 WCHA) gave the Badgers a taste of their own medicine with two quick scores shortly into the third period. Martin Stuchlik notched his second of the evening with a one-timer on the power play, while fourth-liner Brent McMann provided what seemed like insurance with a freak goal against Bruckler.
After falling behind 2-0 by the first intermission, UAA forward Chris Tarkir cut the deficit in half at 7:05 after taking advantage of one of many Bruckler mistakes. Stuchlik put in the equalizer a few minutes later, driving home a deflection off the UW netminder.
"I told the guys after the first period that we have to keep them from getting to three before we score," UAA head coach John Hill said. "If they went up 3-0 I thought it would have been game over for us since they're so good defensively."
Freshman forward Joe Pavelski provided Wisconsin an early surge by scoring twice in the opening five minutes of play. The early pair of strikes, one on the power play, gave the Badgers total control of momentum and unnerved the visiting side, as evidenced by their pulling of starting goalie John DeCaro four and half minutes after the opening faceoff.
Despite a dominant first period, though, Wisconsin squandered the opportunity to put the final nail in the Anchorage coffin and slipped into cruise control. Though registering twice as many shots as their opponents through the first two sessions, the Badgers seemed to lose a step, allowing the Seawolves enough space to rally and eventually take the lead.
Though debatably premature at the time, Anchorage's decision to put freshman Nathan Lawson in net so soon into the game reaped immediate benefits. After DeCaro's two goals against in only four shots, Lawson held down the fort and shutout the Badger scorers for 40 minutes, giving his overmatched offensive counterparts the opportunity to claw their way back into the game. For the game, Lawson collected 45 saves and let up three scores.
Wisconsin will attempt to advance to their first Final Five since 2002 and sweep the Seawolves Saturday night at the Coliseum at 7:07 pm.
"They're going to come back and they're going to have their backs up against the wall because they're at an elimination point," UW head coach Mike Eaves said. "We need to build off of what happened here at the end of the game."