On the heels of four power play goals and two goals apiece from WCHA Player of the Year Hilary Knight and senior captain and Massachusetts-native Erika Lawler, Wisconsin dominated conference-rival Minnesota-Duluth, beating the Bulldogs, 5-1, to become the first school to advance to the women's hockey NCAA championship game four straight years.
Top-ranked Wisconsin (33-2-5) will face third-seed Mercyhurst, to advance to its first-ever final after upsetting Minnesota, 5-4, for the chance at three national titles in four seasons.
"As you enter into the playoffs and the Frozen Four your special teams are going to be a key ingredient," UW coach Mark Johnson said. "We're excited for the opportunity to play for the national championship."
After a scoreless first period, Wisconsin's special teams ratcheted up the momentum, as Lawler and Knight accounted for all three second-period goals and all came on the power-play to turn a nail-biting affair into a UW blowout.
Lawler got the scoring going midway through the second when her shot on net knifed it's way through traffic and past UMD goalie Johanna Ellison (27 saves) at 11:16.
"It was kind of one of those weird goals, but that just goes to show how important it is to get anything you can in on net and funny things happen," Lawler said. "We were fortunate enough to get that first goal and I think it was really helpful throughout the rest of the period."
The goal provided dividends immediately. With Elin Holmlov, one of UMD's leading scorer, issued a five-minute major and a game misconduct for checking from behind, the Badgers turned the tide.
Knight, who entered the Frozen Four leading the nation in goals and points, added to her total when she scored on a breakaway just 77 seconds later and Lawler flipped in a rebound off a Knight shot for UW's third tally at 16:36.
"That was a turning point in the game clearly, UMD head coach Shannon Miller said of the penalty. "To be in a game like this and have to [penalty kill] for five minutes is pretty unbelievable. And to lose your top offensive player… is obviously going to hurt you."
The Badgers removed all doubt early in the third period, getting goals from Kyla Sanders at 5:26 and Knight adding her second goal of the game and UW's fourth power-play goal at 14:25.
All this offense, however, was more than enough for senior goalie Jessie Vetter, who stopped 28 shots en route to her six victory in the Frozen Four, with the only bump on her resume being a late goal by Duluth with less than five minutes remaining.
The win gives Vetter her NCAA-record 90th career win with the opportunity to add one more tally to her historic mark on Sunday.
"If you look at Jessie and what she's done for four years, she's really a wall back there in keeping the other team off the scoreboard," Johnson said. "We're excited for this senior class and it's a great way for them to finish their careers as Badgers."
Almost, Mr. Johnson … almost.