Over their past seven games, the Badgers have not allowed a goal on their penalty kill – a stretch in which their opponents have gone 0-for-32 in the man-advantage. They have done it, as coach Mike Eaves pointed out, by taking away time and space from their opponents and forcing them to hurry by attacking – rather than falling back as some people have perceived this team to do.
"We've been working so hard and our forwards are doing an unbelievable job causing havoc on the breakout," said senior defenseman Tom Gilbert. "The penalty kill is all about how hard you play and sacrifice to not have them score. We have all the confidence in the world. If we get a penalty we're not going to get down. We're all positive on the bench and we know we're going to kill it off. That's what our mentality is, and we're doing the job."
Maine brought in the third-ranked power play in the nation, having scored 10 goals on it over the team's previous six games. But the Bears could not manage to find the net on any of their seven opportunities Thursday night. Much of that had to do with the continued hot play of Badger goaltender Brian Elliott. But UW rarely let the Black Bears set up comfortably with an extra man on the ice.
In particular, Carlson and Joe Pavelski did wonderful jobs chasing down pucks and keeping it in Maine's end along the boards for significant stretches. They also took advantage of some turned-over pucks. Carlson may have been surprised by his bounce and good luck, but he certainly played with a fire in making the play happen.
"We've wanted to pressure these teams," Pavelski said. "When we can get down there, we get down there. It's just energy and feeding off the crowd today. They turned the puck over once, and it's just flowing. And then when Carlson got that short-handed goal it just drew our PK out there a little more and we just really wanted to shut it down then."
After that goal the Badgers certainly did not look complacent, as they came right back out and started firing the puck again, Carlson included. The team did not want a letdown, because they knew Maine would try to respond quickly after being rattled.
‘They're going to be ticked off," captain Adam Burish said. "It's tough to be a team on that side. I know what they were going through."
It was certainly a feeling that Burish and the Badgers do not mind inflicting on anyone. Having also scored a power-play goal and an empty-netter that sealed the victory when Maine brought out an extra skater, the Wisconsin special teams got it done on both ends. That is something "that can win you championships," Burish said.
Wisconsin assistants Mark Osiecki and Kevin Patrick work closely with the Badgers in their penalty killing. Before every game when the team has its special-teams meeting, usually someone will speak up following the penalty kill portion with words of encouragement.
"Someone says, ‘Let's have a goose egg,'" Burish relayed. "(They say), ‘Let's not let them score any special teams goals.' When you kill off a penalty you get that emotional high. After a big kill it's a lift and it keeps you going."
That penalty-killing unit, ranked third nationally, just seems to be getting better and better. As good as it has been between the pressure and the goaltending – which Eaves said is quite frankly the team's best penalty killer at times – the opportunities are bound to present themselves. Maine had already struggled in allowing short-handed goals this season, as Carlson's was the 12th it had given up.
"We had trouble recognizing some situations (this season)," Maine goaltender Ben Bishop said. "The puck would be at the blue line and we wouldn't have enough guys back to protect the net."
When Carlson's top-ten SportsCenter worthy move got him by the one man who was back to stop him, the Bears were again in similar trouble. Carlson had plenty of time to wait, fire a slapshot or even pass it to Andrew Joudrey. Instead, he shot it quickly and surprised Bishop – and perhaps himself.
It may have involved a bit of luck, but the Badgers are doing everything to make their own luck with one game to go. And if special teams can win you championships, they have to like their chances right now.