Under pressure the entire night from a North Dakota (4-3-1, 2-3-0) front line that resembles the who's who of college hockey, including last year's Hobey Baker winner Ryan Duncan, junior Shane Connelly looked like a future Hobey winner, stopping 43 shots to help No.10 Wisconsin (5-2-0, 2-1-0) to a physical 4-0 victory Friday night.
In his first year as the full-time starter, Connelly had his best game between the pipes this season, including having to defend a 25-shot barrage in the third period, as he earned his first shutout of the season and fifth of his career.
"I knew that they were going to throw everything at the net," Connelly said. "They were down. They were desperate. They were coming into that period needing everything at the net. I knew that I was going to have to make some big stops in the third period.
"They could have thrown 30, 40 shots at me in the third period and I would have been fine."
Leading the nation with a .958 save percentage and a 1.06 goals against averaged (minimum of two starts), Connelly's counterpart, UND senior Jean-Philippe Lamoureux, lived up to his billing as one of the best goaltenders in the country. Although he stopped 20 shots, making some spectacular glove saves in the process, Lamoureux's two biggest mistakes proved costly.
With the game scoreless midway through the second, freshman phenom Kyle Turris attempted a close-range backhand right in front of Lamoureux. In an act of rarity, Lamoureux gave up a rebound, allowing UW's Ben Street to cash in the rebound and register the first Wisconsin goal.
The goal continued a career hot streak for Street, who was named one of the team's assistant captains in the offseason. Dating back to last year's season finale, Street has an eight-straight point-scoring streak (five goals, eight assists), which is the longest for the Badgers since Joe Pavelski tallied points in 12 consecutive contests in 2006.
"The opportunities have been there and I am getting chances," Street said. "My line mates have been a lot of help, too. I am seeing the puck, I am finding the area and the holes and the balance is coming right now. Everything's contributing to (the points)."
After Wisconsin added a power-play goal from freshman Brendan Smith earlier in the period, the Badgers capitalized on Lamoureux's other mistake. Off a shot from Josh Engel, Lamoureux was able to get his left pad on the puck. Unfortunately for him, the puck bounced right to center Blake Geoffrion, who fired a one-timer through Lamoureux's five hole to give Wisconsin a big insurance goal.
"Especially with the third goal, those were bad rebounds on my part," Lamoureux said. "Things like that should never happen. I didn't do my job tonight. I didn't make enough big saves to give us a chance to win and that's unacceptable."
Wisconsin's power-play goal by Smith in the third marked UW's 12th power-play goal through seven games, which is more than one third of the team's 2006-07 season total of 30. In seven games this year, Wisconsin has at least one power-play goal in six contests.
While Wisconsin opened up the scoring in the third, it was a tough night for the Fighting Sioux's top line, as Duncan, Chris VandeVelde and T.J. Oshie couldn't generate anything offensively, tallying only 11 shots between the three of them. North Dakota even tried pulling its goalie on the power play with three minutes left to try and find some late magic.
Sticking with the theme of the night, nothing seems to work for the visitors, as sophomore John Mitchell capped the scoring with his first of the year on the empty net.
"We had a lot of chances to score some goals, but we couldn't get one by (Connelly)," UND captain Rylan Kaip said. "We have to battle through it. We haven't scored many goals in the last two games. We have to work through this little funk here and score some ugly ones to get on the board."
North Dakota had its chances in the opening frame, as the Badgers had trouble matching the speed and strength of the Fighting Sioux from the opening faceoff, Wisconsin was victim of sloppy play, leading to a plethora of turnovers in its own zone and odd man rushes that challenged Connelly.
But when the period ended and the score knotted at zero, the Badgers knew that they had caught the break that they needed.
"We were on our heels and had not played a team that plays that pace," Wisconsin head coach Mike Eaves said. "To come out of that first period 0-0 was pretty good for us. It was a matter of regrouping and getting that first-hand experience."
As it turned out, the struggles allowed Wisconsin to highlight its trademark blocking, as the Badgers blocked 31 Fighting Sioux shots. In a period where the younger Badgers had trouble adjusting to the fast pace of the Sioux, the blocks turned out to be critical in establishing the flow of the game.
"Our coaches were really harping on us to block shots, both forwards and defense," Smith said. "It's the heart of our game and the more blocks shots you have, the more the other team is going to be thinking ‘we can't be taking these shots.' You have to be in those lanes and suck up the pain to block a shot."
But the star of the night was Connelly, who received multiple standing ovations from the 14,000-plus fans in attendance. For a goalie that shutout Michigan State, last season's national champions, a year ago and beating Ohio State in front of 40,890 fans at Lambeau Field in Green Bay, this win tonight tops them all.
"I think this has to be at the top," Connelly said. "I told myself I needed to step up and really help this team win. I just prepared for a game that I knew was going to happen. North Dakota is the number three team in the country and it was everything that I thought it was going to be."