Rob Nolan played a solid 40 minutes, stopping 29 pucks and allowing just one goal. But by the time he got his chance, the damage was already done.
Wisconsin scored three times in the opening 20 minutes and skated off with a 4-1 victory to take game one of a best-of-three Western Collegiate Hockey Association first-round playoff series.
"I think our team played with great balance tonight," UW head coach Mike Eaves said. "We got production from all four lines. It was a balanced attack, a balanced game and very solid."
"It's always huge to win the first game," senior A.J. Degenhardt said. "I think it was key for us to play three solid periods and finish off the game strong to go into tomorrow night with the momentum."
The Badgers got a goal from each one of its lines and junior goalie Brian Elliott grabbed 21 saves in the win.
"I think the difference in the hockey game was turnovers. Three of their goals were directly off turnovers in our own end," MTU head coach Jamie Russell said. "That perfect tick-tick-tick play isn't going to be there and you've got to be proud to make the ugly play."
The two teams wasted no time getting on the scoreboard as they combined for four first-period goals and the Badgers benefited from a leaky five-hole in the Huskies starting netminder, freshman Michael-Lee Teslak.
Earl blasted a one-timer that got caught between the legs of Teslak, but the goalie did not close the door and the puck trickled in.
After Tech tied the game a little more than two minutes later, the Badgers regained the lead as Teslak faltered again.
Nick Licari made a great effort to keep the puck in the zone, then handed the puck off to Degenhardt. The senior fired an odd-angled shot from the left side of the net off the back side of Teslak and in.
"If you're fourth line scores a goal, you're more than likely going to win the game," Licari said.
Teslak's luck did not get any better from there, as UW's Jack Skille made it 3-1 on a Badger power play. Once again it was a one-time blast from the freshman's stick that was nearly saved by Teslak, but instead it squirted through his legs again and seeped in with less than four minutes left in the period.
It was the only UW power play goal on nine chances, but the Badgers produced a variety of quality chances and its play on special teams was important.
"They were our most positive factor," Eaves said of his special teams. "They came off the ice and excited the crowd because they did create some production."
Teslak played out the rest of the period, but fellow freshman Rob Nolan took his place between the pipes to start the second frame.
"I don't think [Teslak] played his best game," Russell said. "The three goals in the first period went through him and he looked like he was fighting it a little bit."
Nolan had better luck in a tighter second period. He stopped each of the first 12 shots that he saw, but that luck ran out on the 13th Badger shot of the period, with less than 48 seconds remaining.
Jake Dowell skated the puck around behind the net and attempted a flailing wrap-around. The shot went wide, but sophomore Matthew Ford was ready and waiting to clean up, pocketing the puck in the empty back door.
Unfortunately for Nolan, he did not get any help from his offense the rest of the way as Elliott made 10 saves in the second and five in a scoreless third.
Elliott has now surrendered just two goals in his last three games, and gave his team some momentum with a few key saves midway through the second period with his team on a 3-on-5 disadvantage.
The talk after the game was all about balance. The Badgers got goals from four different players—by contrast, they got goals from just three players in their four-game postseason a year ago.
Tech's ugly playoff streak continued. The Huskies have not won a postseason game since March 14, 1998.
However, with their season on the line—and considering the recent history between the two teams—Eaves and the Badgers know a win will not be easy when they look to punch their Final Five ticket Saturday night.
"They have the tenacity to stay with a series," Eaves said. "It's going to be a tougher game tomorrow."