A Final Finish

After an uninspired 2-0 loss to No.6 St. Cloud State in the WCHA Final Five semifinals, Head Coach Mike Eaves inserted two new players and created four new scoring lines. The results gave No.3 Wisconsin the jolt it needed, blasting old nemesis and No.1 Denver, 6-3, in the final third place at the Xcel Energy Center.

ST. PAUL, Minn. - In terms of momentum heading into the post season, Wisconsin's mindset could not have changed more in a 24-hour time frame.

After looking lethargic and failing to capitalize on countless chances in Friday's matinee, No.3 Wisconsin wrapped up third place at the WCHA Final Five after its 6-3 win over No. 1 Denver (27-9-4) Saturday afternoon before an announced crowd of 12,544 at the Xcel Energy Center.

The decision assured Wisconsin (25-10-4 overall) will get one of the top four seeds when the 16-school NCAA tournament field is unveiled today and left it as the only team in the nation that hasn't lost back-to-back games this season, thanks in large part to a two-goal effort by senior tri-captain Blake Geoffrion.

At the 2:21 mark of the first period, senior tri-captain Ben Street notched the Badgers' first goal of the Final Five. From behind the net, senior Aaron Bendickson tried a quick shot on DU goaltender Marc Cheverie but was stopped. However, Street was there to shove in the rebound, giving Wisconsin the early 1-0 advantage. Junior blue liner Craig Johnson, who was inserted into the lineup because defenseman Cody Goloubef was suspended by the league for one game because of a shoulder to the head the night before, tallied the goal's secondary assist and finished the game with a ratio of plus-1.

Just 2:37 later, sophomore forward Derek Stepan added to the Wisconsin lead by scoring his 10th goal of the season. Stepan gained control of the puck at center ice and charged up the left side. He ripped a wrister from just outside the left faceoff circle, and the puck soared into the far upper corner of the net. The unassisted goal gave the Badgers a 2-0 lead less than five minutes into the game.

The Badgers were not done.

At the 11:08 mark and on the power play, Geoffrion tipped in his team-high 24th goal of the season and put Wisconsin on top, 3-0. In the Badgers' offensive zone, Stepan ripped a shot from top of the left faceoff circle for UW. Geoffrion was anchored just outside the crease, and he misdirected the shot past Cheverie.

After the goal, freshman Adam Murray replaced Cheverie, the league's player of the year, between the pipes for the Pioneers.

The remaining 8:52 went scoreless, and heading into the second, Wisconsin skated with a 3-0 lead. The Badgers were also blitzing the nets, outshooting the Pioneers, 18-10, through one period of play.

Just 25 seconds into the second, the Pioneers brought it to a two-goal game. On the power play, senior Rhett Rakhshani gained control of the puck and flicked it past UW goaltender Scott Gudmandson on a breakaway. This brought things to a 3-1 Badger advantage.

At the 8:54 mark of the same period, Geoffrion got the three-goal cushion back. The goal came on a 2-on-1 after a great pass from freshman Craig Smith and an even better shot by the senior tri-captain. On a rush, Smith slid the puck across the slot to Geoffrion who managed to slide the tough-angled shot past Murray just in front of the end line. Less than halfway through the second, UW led, 4-1.

With the score, Geoffrion tallied his 25th goal of the season. It is the most goals scored in a season for Wisconsin since Steve Reinprecht and Dany Heatley tallied 26 and 28, respectively, in the 1999-2000 campaign.

Less than three minutes later, junior forward Sean Dolan gave Wisconsin its largest lead of the game at four goals. From behind the net, Bohmbach muscled a pass to Dolan, who was positioned inside the left faceoff circle in front of the crease. From there, the junior fired top-shelf into the back of the net to put UW up, 5-1, midway through the third period.

Less than five minutes into the third, junior Jesse Martin brought it back to a three-goal game for DU. On the power play, Martin slid one past Gudmandson, bringing the score to a 5-2 Badger lead.

At the 6:22 mark, sophomore Nate Dewhurst brought it to a two-goal game after he scored on a rush for the Pioneers.

But, with 3:44 to go in the game, the Badgers got the three-goal cushion back for the final time. Davies took the puck around the back of the net and scored from behind the goal line with a bank off a DU defenseman.

Wisconsin ended the game having outshot Denver, 48-36. Gudmandson turned away 33 Pioneer attempts, as his record climbed to 17-4-4 on the season. For DU, Murray stopped 34 shots as his record fell to 3-4-1 on the year. Cheverie made eight saves in the game for DU.

The Badgers await their postseason fate as the NCAA Men's Ice Hockey Tournament's 16-team field will be selected Sunday morning at 10:30 a.m. CT.


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