UW's offense struggled to find its niche and its power play was hardly effective against St. Cloud State, the best penalty killing team in the Western Collegiate Hockey Association (86 percent). However, what mattered most for Wisconsin was the hard-hitting Badger defense playing its best game in nearly two weeks and having Brian Elliott record his first shutout in almost three months as Wisconsin beat the St. Cloud Huskies 1-0 on Friday night at the Kohl Center.
From the opening faceoff, it was evident that goals would be at a premium for both teams. Through the first two periods, the Badgers struggled to get going offensively; mishandling the puck, turning the puck over in their zone and registering multiple offsides penalties. The Badgers were able to stay in the game though; thanks in large part to their penalty kill. After being overwhelmed by Minnesota State's offense last weekend, Wisconsin shut down SCSU's power play, as the Huskies went 0-for-7 on the man-advantage and only managed seven shots on goal on the power play.
"In the WCHA, if you're power play is not going to score; you are not going to win," St. Cloud head coach Bob Motzko said. "I don't think we got three Grade A chances all night [on Elliott]. He had to make a couple on some of our long shots on the point, but we made it pretty easy for Elliott."
"They were vital because they killed seven [attempts] off," head coach Mike Eaves said of the Badger penalty killers. "As usual, one of your best penalty killers has to be your goaltenders. Our guys did a pretty good job of getting low, blocking shots and cutting down whatever shots that got to Brian. We did a good job off the ice when we had the opportunity to limit their time in our zone. Overall, we did a lot of good things and we need to continue to do that."
With two of the top goaltenders in the WCHA facing off against each other in the series, both players lived up to their billing. Elliott secured 27 attempts while St. Cloud's Bobby Goepfert saved 25 shots. However, it was the one goal that Goepfert could not stop, a shot by Robbie Earl that sneaked under his left pad, and the ineffectiveness of St. Cloud's offense, that proved to be the difference makers.
"They wore us down physically," Motzko said. "Our defense was just pooped at the end and we just couldn't sustain anything on the offensive zone. We turned the puck over, missed the net and by the end (of) the game, it was just going to come down to who was going to make one play and Robbie Earl makes the play."
In a game that was an important turning point for both teams' post-season aspirations, it was the struggling Elliott that secured his first win since beating Colorado College on Jan. 14.
In what could prove to be the game that turns the Badgers around as they look to make a run to the Frozen Four in Milwaukee, Elliott played like he had in the midseason, being patient between the pipes and letting the action of the game come to him instead.
"I don't think [St. Cloud] had a bunch of Grade A scoring chances but when [Elliott] had to see and control the puck, he did a nice job," Eaves said.
"When you get back into the net after being out for five weeks, it's obviously going to be tough," Elliott said. "I had a talk with (goaltending coach Bill) Howard and he told me to just play; he wrote that on the board [in the locker room] before we went out. I think that helped us breath a little easier out there and to let us know that we can play this game... I had to make a couple tough saves but, other than that, the guys forced them to shoot from the perimeter and made my job easier."