The sophomore center scored a hat trick and junior goalie Brian Elliott stopped 15 shots as the Badgers defeated Bemidji State 4-0 to win their second game in as many months in the Green Bay area to advance to tomorrow's Midwest Regional final against Cornell.
The game started off rather peculiarly for the Badgers, as Wisconsin's offense struggled to gain momentum during their Saturday afternoon contest. The Badgers were unable to take advantage of multiple Bemidji State turnovers and prime scoring chances and couldn't take the early lead. To make matters worse, senior winger Ryan MacMurchy was called for a five-minute major and game misconduct for checking from behind at 11:13. Not only did Wisconsin lose one of its best players for the rest of the game, the Badgers were forced to play shorthanded for the next five minutes.
Although one would assume that Bemidji State would take the momentum and run with it, it was the Badgers that awoke from their slumber and never looked back. With some help from two Bemidji State offside infractions, the Badgers used their shot-blocking skills to their advantage and continually cleared the puck from their zone, which brought the pro-Wisconsin crowd to its feet.
The Beavers did not just miss an opportunity to score a goal, they failed to put a shot on net.
"If we could have got something going in the first period, it could have been different," Bemidji State head coach Tom Serratore said. "When you have a five-minute power play and you don't get a shot that just deflates you. The key against a team like Wisconsin is to score first because you can't play catch-up hockey against them. They're just too strong and too good defensively."
"We talked before the game about putting a lot of pressure on them," UW captain Adam Burish said. "Let's not allow them to set up and try to dictate what they are going to do, where they are going to dump the puck and not let them get out of the zone easily. Even when they did get set up, we were pressuring them. Anytime you put pressure on the team it makes a difference. You got to make plays and that's what we did."
When Bemidji State was called for a tripping minor at 15:31, with 42 seconds left on the MacMurchy major, the Badgers had the momentum they needed to register their first score of the game.
On the ensuing power play, sophomore Joe Pavelski blasted a shot from behind the left faceoff circle that found its way past Bemidji State goalie Layne Sedevie to give Wisconsin a power-play goal and a 1-0 lead at 17:07.
The Badgers padded their lead just 26 seconds into the second period when Pavelski struck again. Pavelski faked a slap shot, which Sedevie bit on, and scored on a back hander, as the Beaver netminder struggled to regain his balance after the shot fake.
After junior Jake Dowell scored his fifth goal of the season at 17:30 of the second period to extend the Wisconsin lead, the stage was set for Pavelski at the beginning of the third period. Pavelski happily obliged, as he beat Sedevie between his legs to score his first collegiate hat trick that sent about three dozen hats flying onto the ice from the 8,523 fans in attendance.
"It feels really good and I haven't had a hat trick in awhile," Pavelski said. "It feels good for me being from [Wisconsin] but it feels good for our team because half of our team is from Wisconsin. Our families are here and to do it in front of them is very special."
Other than Pavelski, the story of the game was the Badgers defense shutting down the Bemidji State offense throughout the contest. The Beavers only managed to get 15 shots on Brian Elliott and only a handful of those were quality scoring opportunities against the junior netminder. Elliott, a Hobey Baker award finalist, posted his seventh shutout of the season, increasing his school record single-season total and breaking a school record with his 10th career shutout. For Wisconsin, Elliott finding his stride once again couldn't have come at a better time for the Badgers.
"Going into these games, your big guys got to show up," Burish said. "During that first period flurry, Elliott was rock solid. He came out of nowhere a few times to kick the puck away and made some highlight reel saves. Being the kind of player he is, though, he thrives in this situation. He's a special player."
Although bitter rivals throughout this season, Minnesota inadvertently helped Wisconsin last night when they were stunned by Holy Cross in a West Regional semifinal. Minnesota's loss marked the first time a No. 4 seed defeated a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament. The Gopher loss helped show the UW players that no team is safe in this 16-team tournament.
"We just addressed it quickly last night," Burish said. "No matter who you are playing in this tournament, all 16 teams are here for a reason. If you look past a team, it can hurt you, just like it did to Minnesota. It just helped us focus on what we need to do to be successful."