For the second time in three games, Dowell scored a tiebreaking, game-winning goal in the last five minutes to lead UW to victory; this time around, it gave the Badgers (16-17-4) a crucial 3-2 Game One victory over No. 11 Denver (21-14-4) Friday night at Magness Arena in this best-of-three WCHA first-round series.
After UW relinquished a 2-0 lead, the Badgers' hottest line ensured they wouldn't let this all-important opening game slip away. Defenseman Matt Olinger's shot hit forward Michael Davies from behind, and Davies put a backhand on net. DU goaltender Peter Mannino made the stop, but Dowell was in the right place at the right time and tucked away the rebound with 4:24 to play. Dowell's goal was his team-high 17th of the year, and it's nearly unarguable to say it's his biggest so far.
"You like to see that from your leaders, is that they step up to the plate," UW head coach Mike Eaves said. "Jake's our leading goal scorer, and he found a way to whack one in."
Dowell has become not only Wisconsin's top scorer, but their most clutch player as well. On Mar. 2, Dowell broke a 1-1 tie on the road at Minnesota-Duluth with 1:40 remaining, which ensured Wisconsin would jump to the seventh seed in the WCHA playoffs and visit Denver, which is now 1-5-2 in its last eight games.
Davies, as a young freshman, has meshed well on his new line with Dowell and senior Ross Carlson, and knew Dowell would be there when the Badgers needed him most.
"When he gets an opportunity with two minutes left in the game, he buries it," Davies said. "He's been real good at that all year. That's huge, that shows the type of player he is."
"I don't think that's been my role since probably high school," said Dowell of his scoring presence. "So it's different, but I am aware that goals are tough to come by sometimes, as an older guy, you really try to go out there and set the tone and do whatever I can do."
Wisconsin took control early, putting a surprising amount of offensive pressure on Mannino in the first period. After throwing pucks at Mannino early on, defenseman Joe Piskula finally broke through for the Badgers when his shot from the right faceoff circle found its way under Mannino's left arm and into the net for a 1-0 Wisconsin lead.
Piskula's first goal of the season came at 14:33 of the first period.
Later in the first, Piskula and DU forward Rhett Rakhshani were whistled for minors at 16:37, and the Badgers took advantage of the 4-on-4 play. Defenseman Kyle Klubertanz's blue-line shot was stopped by Mannino, but the rebound went right to forward Ben Street, who backhanded his ninth goal of the season between Mannino's legs with just over two minutes remaining in the opening stanza.
Carlson, whose faceoff win set up the play, also picked up the assist.
As dominant as UW was in the first period, DU regained momentum in the second period. Denver cut the lead to one when forward Brock Trotter wrapped around the net and dished the puck to centerman Ryan Dingle, who ripped a slapshot past Elliott's glove for his team-leading 22nd goal of the season 5:14 into the second.
Ten minutes later, the Pioneers tied things up off a defensive lapse on Wisconsin's end.
Elliott dropped the puck off behind the net, but it was picked up by Denver forward Brian Gifford. The puck was sent around the boards to forward J.D. Corbin, and his wrister was deflected past Elliott's left pad at 15:44.
"I heard so many things, I thought it was [defenseman Jamie] McBain was right there," Elliott said. "At the last second, I was trying to hold on to it, and it just fell out. It was a mistake by me, now we're going to have to be extra careful communicating."
The third period was more balanced for both teams, with neither team really gaining an edge in either offensive zone. Elliott made perhaps his biggest save of the night when Dingle – who led all players with eight shots – came down on an odd-man rush. Dingle's wrister just caught the Badger senior's stick and was knocked away. The puck went the other way, and a few seconds later, Dowell scored and Wisconsin was on its way to an upset victory.
"The job is not done, it's a step in the right direction," Eaves said. "That was the mentality after the game, we take it one step, but it's a huge step for us."
"This year especially in the WCHA, it's so difficult to win a game if you only play 30 or 40 minutes," DU coach George Gwozdecky said. "They played a much more complete three periods than we did, and earned the win, deserved the win."
The Badgers pelted Mannino with 37 shots, and Elliott made 23 saves for his 13th victory of the season. Elliott is now just one win away from career victory No. 50.
"He had a couple big saves for us, and that's what you want. Brian's one of our key guys," Eaves said. "We need to have him continue to do that if we're going to be successful at every level."
Game Notes: The penalty kill was outstanding on both sides, as the Badgers were 0-for-6 with the man advantage, and the Pioneers went 0-for-5 … Piskula's goal was just the third of his career, in 108 games … Denver got the better of the faceoff category, 41-30 … the Pioneers are expected to slot in senior Glenn Fisher for Saturday's contest … the University of Denver has sold out its last 57 regular season men's hockey games. But Magness Arena was not filled to capacity in the series opener, with an attendance of 5,196 on hand … in other WCHA opening round games: top-seeded Minnesota easily dispatched Alaska-Anchorage 6-2; Minnesota-Duluth upended host No. 3-ranked St. Cloud State 3-1; North Dakota took care of Minnesota State, Mankato 5-2; and Michigan Tech knocked off host Colorado College in overtime, 2-1.