"I thought that Michigan played a very strong game," UW head coach Mike Eaves said. "In the game of hockey you talk about the team that gets off to a good start is the team that has the percentages in their favor."
In this game, Michigan got off to the better start by far, outshooting the Badgers 18-4 in the opening 20 minutes and grabbing an early 2-0 lead.
A penalty at 6:58 gave the Wolverines their first power play of the night on a rookie mistake by Josh Engel. It took just 10 seconds and one shot for the Wolverines to capture the early lead.
Just 10 seconds into the power play, junior Jeff Tambellini fired a wrister from the blue line that snuck through traffic and past Wisconsin netminder Bernd Bruckler, opening up a 1-0 lead just over seven minutes into the opening period.
"There were a lot of shots tonight that I didn't see," Bruckler said. ‘There did a great job screening and getting to the net."
It was not as though the Badgers did not have a chance to get something going early on. The Wolverines basically invited them to take the momentum to open the period by taking a penalty just over one minute into the game.
Two minutes, one shot, and one Robbie Earl whiff later and the Badgers' attempt to gain some momentum was thwarted.
But these were only the beginnings of the Badgers' first-period woes.
The Wolverines nearly doubled their lead at 12:51 as Chad Kolarik had an empty net on a rebound, but Bruckler was somehow able to get the paddle of his stick on the puck and keep it out. Kolarik celebrated as if he had scored, but the referee made no signal until he checked with the replay official, when he subsequently signaled no goal.
But Michigan would extend its lead less than a minute later. T.J. Hensick skated the puck in but had it poked checked away. However, it bounced right to the stick of Brandon Rogers who scorched a puck past Bruckler from the top of the left circle for the eventual game-winning goal.
By the time the first intermission rolled around, the Badgers trailed 2-0 on the scoreboard, 18-4 in shots on goal and looked as though they did not belong on the same ice as the Wolverines.
"We kind of stood around and watched them. It was a veteran team that went out there and took control of the game," Eaves said.
The Badgers kept Michigan in check for most of the second period, but did nothing to rile the dozens of Wisconsin fans in attendance. Eventually the Wolverines added another goal with two minutes left in the period.
A.J. Degenhardt turned the puck over in the UW offensive zone, setting up a three-on-one break the other way for Michigan. Hensick skated it up ice and attempted to cross the puck to Brandon Kaleniecki. Instead, the puck caromed off Engel's stick and into his own net, giving the Wolverines a 3-0 advantage.
Each team garnered just five shots in a slow period, during which the Wolverines seemed content to play defense and the Badgers' offensive misery continued.
Tambellini struck again seven minutes into the third period, giving him two goals and two assists on the night and the Wolverines a 4-0 insurmountable lead.
"This was probably my best game at Michigan," Tambellini said.
The Badgers did get a goal however, when Earl took the puck behind the net and passed it in front to Adam Burish, who scored on a one-timer to nix the shutout.
It was a sad way to go out for Bruckler, who made 27 saves in what turned out to be his final game as a Badger. He could hardly be blamed for the first goal, which he did not see or the third one which was put in by his own player, not to mention he did not get much help on the offensive end.
"I'm standing here and my career is done. I love this program and I love the coaches and all my teammates in the locker room," Bruckler said. "I'm just really proud having had a chance to play with them over the course of my career here."
The Wolverines ended up outshooting the Badgers 31-18 as Montoya had to make just 17 saves winning his 30th game of the season.
Furthermore, when the Badger coaching staff reviews the tape, they will be able to count the number of decent scoring chances on one hand.
"There is no doubt in my mind that we had all the tools to get it done, but the way we came out in the first period, we weren't prepared for what was coming," Bruckler said.
Wisconsin finishes the season 23-14-4 overall and one game shy of their finish last season. In the end, it was the youthfulness of this team that held them up at the end.
"After the game, coach said let's learn our lesson from this," Burish said. "We've learned a lot of lessons. We're going to come back and be an older team next year."
"You have to be able to handle the moment, that's the whole thing with the NCAA tournament," Tambellini said.
Michigan will take on Colorado College Saturday night at 4 p.m. for the right to go to the Frozen Four.