"This has been really hard for us," UW head coach Mike Eaves said. "We had to do it the hard way, in a game three … When you do something that's hard there is a great measure of satisfaction and happiness that goes with that. I think our team took a big step with that tonight."
Freshman Joe Pavelski and junior captain Adam Burish scored within four minutes of each other midway through the second period to put the Badgers (23-12-4 overall) in front and their nationally regarded defense did the rest.
Pavelski's score marked his fourth of the playoffs and his sixth point, keeping him in the lead for season scoring amongst WCHA freshman.
All-American goaltender Bernd Bruckler returned to his station between the pipes and erased all memory of his disastrous Friday night performance in turning away 27 Anchorage shots. With their star defender back in form, Wisconsin's blue-liners physically dominated the UAA forwards and held them to precious few offensive chances.
"It definitely helps a lot to get a win under my belt again, that hasn't happened in a few games," Bruckler said. "I just came back with a clear head and wanted to do my best for this team."
Alaska-Anchorage pulled goalie Nathan Lawson with just over a minute left in the third period, in a last-ditch attempt to tie the game and prolong its season. Despite an extra attacker and a resurgent effort that saw the Seawolves edge Wisconsin in shots in a period (16-14) for the first time all series, Anchorage (12-19-6, 9-15-4 WCHA) was unable to best Bruckler and the Badger defense.
"It's very frustrating, there are a lot of things that happened all week that were very frustrating," Alaska-Anchorage head coach John Hill said. "I couldn't be more proud of our hockey club. We lost to a very good hockey team, but all three games were extremely close. It's tough to leave tomorrow morning feeling the way we do about this game."
On the other side of the ice, Lawson continued his stellar weekend in goal with another solid performance, amassing 37 saves and keeping the Seawolves in contention until the end. For the series, the rookie netminder stopped 126 shots with only six goals against.
The Badgers received bad news before they hit the ice when forward Jake Dowell was suspended by the league after Hill requested a review of an altercation Dowell was involved in during Saturday night's game. The said incident saw Dowell rip off UAA defender Brandon Segal's helmet and throw it against the glass, part of a fight that sent five players to the penalty box and led a suspension for Anchorage forward Shea Hamilton.
After Saturday night's 2-1 loss Pavelski said that the UW forwards would need to capitalize on second chances in order to score on the red hot Lawson. Sunday his words rang true as the Wisconsin attack seized the lead midway through the second after laying a barrage of shots on the UAA goaltender during two melees in front of net.
Pavelski scored the equalizer at 7:13 of the middle stanza while team captain Adam Burish put in the game-winner for Wisconsin four minutes later. There was some controversy in regards to the latter score, however, as the puck appeared to be driven into the net by Burish's leg instead of his stick.
"I saw (the puck) come up into my thigh area and I just tried to go with it," Burish said. "I played soccer growing up."
For the second night in a row the Seawolves took a 1-0 lead into the first intermission. Sophomore defender Chad Anderson tallied the opening score on a power play, sending a long-range slapshot through traffic and past Bruckler for the lone Anchorage goal.
The Badgers now move on to their first WCHA Final Five under third-year coach Mike Eaves and will face No. 14 North Dakota in Thursday night's play-in game at the XCel Energy Center in Minneapolis, Minn. Faceoff is set for 7:35 pm.
Oddly enough, Wisconsin hurt its NCAA Tournament standing by winning Sunday. The Badgers' loss to Alaska-Anchorage Saturday night made the Seawolves a team under consideration, thus allowing UW's five wins against UAA this season to count for the comparisons that make up the Pairwise rankings.
So UW actually jumped up to No. 9 in the Pairwise after Saturday's loss. But beating UAA Sunday pushed the Seawolves back below the TUC cutoff line, and UW dropped into a tie for 11th, making Thursday's game with North Dakota a must win.