Going Forward in Reverse

Another one goal loss already in the books, this one coming to No.6 North Dakota by a 2-1 margin Friday Night, the Badgers can take some solace in the fact that they will be home for the first round of the WCHA Playoffs. Other than that, not much is going in the right direction for Wisconsin.

MADISON – How can you lose and still win?

Ask members of the University of Wisconsin men's hockey team that question and the Badgers can give a solid 'yes' as an answer.

All the other vital questions that Wisconsin is still searching for the answers to? Not so much on that front.

No.19 Wisconsin continues its second-half slide by suffering another agonizing one-goal defeat, this time at the hands No.6 North Dakota, who erased a second-period deficit to beat the Badgers, 2-1, clinching its first regular season conference title since 2004.

"This is a tough trophy to win and a tough league to come out on top of in the regular season," said UND senior Matt Watkins. "There are a lot of good teams and a lot of good players. Right now, we're enjoying the moment."

Even a five-game winless streak, a four-game home losing streak and suffering their 10th one-goal loss of the season Friday night was still not enough to keep the Badgers from clinching home ice next weekend for the first round of the WCHA Playoffs.

Due to the fact that Minnesota, Minnesota Duluth and St. Cloud State all lost Friday night, Wisconsin (16-15-4, 13-11-3 WCHA) will face one of those three teams or Minnesota State next weekend.

The Badgers can even finish third with a win and a Colorado College lost or tie or a tie and a CC loss against Denver tomorrow night.

"I definitely think it gives us an extra little kick that I think we need at this point when things have been going the other way for us," junior Ben Grotting said about the home ice. "I think it's going to be a tremendous opportunity for our team to come together here at a vital time of the season."

In a game that was virtually even (shots were even at 23 and faceoffs were 31-30 in favor of the Sioux), North Dakota (22-11-4, 17-6-4 WCHA) got their separation on special teams.

Wisconsin had to build a lead first, which is did when Grotting beat Sioux goalie Brad Eidsness (22 saves) glove side at the six minute, 12 second mark and continued to be the aggressive team late into the second period.

But the bad breaks were quick to return to Wisconsin.

Battling on the power play without second-leading scorer with Blake Geoffrion, who missed the game and is doubtful for Saturday's game with a knee injury, the Badgers saw a loose piece of ice cause the puck to skip over UW defenseman Jamie McBain's stick and right in front of Watkins, who had a full head of steam heading toward UW goalie Shane Connelly.

Watkins went untouched down the right boards and beat Connelly low glove side to tie the score at one at 16:56 in the second, bringing the large quantity of Sioux fans to their feet.

"Unfortunately the guy had momentum and was heading straight for the puck," McBain said. "Obviously, there's nothing you can really do on those. It's just one of those bounces that you'd like to have back."

After being near the top of the league in scoring, McBain has gone scoreless in his last five games. Coincidentally, the Badgers are 3-9-2 when he doesn't score a point and the Badger power play, without Geoffrion, went 0-for-3.

"What would the effect be without Blake in the lineup, especially on the power play?" UW head coach Mike Eaves questioned. "It affects your chemistry. I thought our power play looked a little dysfunction at times."

And so did North Dakota's power play, which was shutout on its first four attempts by an aggressive Wisconsin penalty kill that had taken lumps in recent weeks.

During the Badgers four-game winless streak, the team allowed seven power-play goals on 21 penalty kills, a stark change from UW allowing just seven power-play goals in its previous 18 games.

Junior Chris VandeVelde made sure the struggles continued, as he beat Connelly low stick side to put North Dakota ahead for good.

"We didn't give a lot and they certainly didn't give up a lot," Eaves said. "You can tell they are getting ready for the playoffs, because that's what it's all about. It's not giving up a lot and having your special teams come through."

The lost spoiled a solid night by Grotting and freshman Matt Thurber, who assisted on Grotting's goal and, despite being double shifted most of the night, was able to be a thorn in the side of North Dakota most of the game.

"Matt Thurber made himself known," Eaves said. "You noticed him all game. He played strong, got an assist and a good growth game for him against a very tough opponent."


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