If this is the usual occurrence when this phenomenon happens, the Badgers might be better off playing from behind.
Despite a goal and an assist from Andrew Joudrey and Tom Gorowsky and two assists from Michael Davies, the Badgers (2-1-2, 1-1-1 WCHA) came out flat in the third periods and allowed Duluth (1-0-2, 0-0-1 WCHA) to tie the game with just under four minutes left and stymie Wisconsin into a 2-2 tie Friday night.
"We didn't play on our toes, we played on our heels," head coach Mike Eaves said. "That's a lesson in itself when playing with a lead to keep doing the same things and be intelligent in certain areas of the game. It's the first time we have had to do that this year … and I guess we weren't ready for it."
With just under four minutes remaining and on the power play, Bulldog defensivemen Josh Meyers was able to clean up defensivemen Matt Niskanen's shot and throw the puck passed UW goalie Brian Elliott to tie the score.
Although Wisconsin came out firing in overtime, Duluth was able to block the Badgers' attempts, clear the zone and hang out for their first point in Madison since March 2004.
"The game went as we expected with hard play, tight checking and blocked shots," Duluth head coach Scott Sandelin said. "We had some chances early on and had some power play opportunities but ended up giving them some power play goals. It was just a battle and it was a good point, going into the third period going down 2-1 on the road."
Wisconsin squandered the win after successfully building momentum through the second period based on their special teams. The Badgers jumped on the board first when sophomore Tom Gorowsky scored his first goal as a Badger off a feed from Davies that beat Stalock on the near side for the early advantage.
After Duluth's Mason Raymond scored his second goal of the season to tie the score, Wisconsin answered with another power play goal started once again my Michael Davies. Off a shot from Gorowsky, Davies crashed the middle and fired a shot into that congestion in front of the net.
The puck caromed off Stalock and bounced right to Joudrey, who fired a shot from the point that got passed a screened Stalock to put Wisconsin back on top. After returning to the ice after the second intermission, the Badgers responded with their lead by coming out flat, much like they have done in the first period all season long, and couldn't find their niche on the ice.
"When you're playing with a lead, you can't take your foot of the gas pedal in this league," senior captain Andrew Joudrey said. "We played some of our best hockey [late] but couldn't get the job done."
Wisconsin had numerous opportunities to put the Bulldogs away but could never cash in. Twice when up by a goal, Wisconsin was able to beat freshman goalie Alex Stalock with superb puck movement, only to watch their shots bang off the post and shoot out of harm's reach.
The Badgers also didn't help their chances by not staying out of the penalty box. Wisconsin was whistled for nine penalties after taking a 2-1 lead and never could retain the momentum they had generating in the second.
"Games are going to be close this year," Eaves said. "My vision is to have to opportunity to go into the third period with a lead this year. Couple of years ago when [All-American goalie Bernd] Bruckler was here, we talked about the first one to three. That's going to be our motto this year that if we get to three goals, with our goalie and the way we play, we have a chance to be successful and we didn't quite get there tonight."
One of the more intriguing battles was the one between the pipes tonight, as fans were treated to two drastically different goaltending styles. On the Wisconsin side, fans had been accustomed to with senior Brian Elliott using his workman-like style to stop 22 of 24 shots on the night, including stopping Duluth's Nick Kemp on a one-on-one breakaway.
In Duluth's goal however, Stalock put on an adventurous showing, constantly wandering out of the crease with Badgers in his zone and attempting to boost the offense by shooting pucks down the boards for his wings. Even with Wisconsin on the power play, Stalock was not hesitant to leave the crease in an attempt to help his defensivemen clear the zone. Even with senior Josh Johnson on the bench, Sandelin had stuck with the young goalie because of the unique assets he brings to the table.
"It's still a work in progress," Sandelin said. "We've heard about [Stalock's style] from our fans. He's a freshman and we know what he can do. It's just a matter of everyone getting on the same page. He's a guy that can get pucks up in transition and get pucks out and it's hard when one goalie does and one doesn't. We just have to get use to it."
Although Eaves admires Stalock's unique style of play, he is more than happy to have his goaltender play his usual stationary style.
"I much rather have our style of goaltending than go with there's," Eaves said. "Young Mr. Stalock stopped the puck. You can see how quick and active he is, but it is a little bit of an adventure. I know as a coach, I probably would have a few more grey hairs with that style."
"He plays the puck well, has big pads and plays like a defensivemen," Joudrey said. "It can help and hurt him at the same time and we need to challenge him some more [tomorrow night]."
While Wisconsin could look at the game as a success playing without their top eight scorers from last season, the Badgers knew that they let one slip away tonight. Wisconsin knew that Carlson, Klubertanz and Skille were all going to miss some time from the ice for the Badgers and they weren't going to use the injuries as an excuse. What the tie does for Wisconsin on the other hand is give them motivation to play three solid periods of hockey tomorrow night.
"This is the group we're going to war with," Joudrey said. "We learned a lesson from a tonight and hopefully, be better for it [down the road]."