MADISON, Wis. — Sunday afternoon at the Kohl Center, Wisconsin dropped its eighth game out of the last nine, this time a 6-2 decision to No. 1 Michigan State.
“That is the best team we have played,” Wisconsin coach Jeff Sauer said. “It is not so much the talent, but the system they play is a very defensive system. It is very difficult to get odd-man rushes and that type of thing.”
In a wide-open first period, the two teams combined for 28 shots and five goals, including three goals in the first 2 1/2 minutes of the game.
Michigan State (10-1-2 overall, 7-1-1 CCHA) started the game’s scoring just one minute and six seconds into the first period. On the play, Spartan wing Damon Whitten beat Wisconsin (8-8-0, 5-5-0) goaltender Graham Melanson five-hole with a shot from the circle.
“We want to get to the point where we are playing 30- to 40-second shifts,” Sauer said. “When the goal was scored, the same five guys were on the ice for us. Our guys were tired and they put pressure on and we couldn’t get [the puck] out [of the zone].”
Wisconsin scored its first goal at the 2:14 mark in the first period after defenseman Alex Brooks’ shot from the point ended up on the stick of wing Andy Wheeler, who fired a wrist shot from the faceoff dot past Spartan goaltender Ryan Miller.
Wisconsin took a 2-1 lead just 15 seconds later after an ill-advised clearing attempt by Miller was controlled by Badger wing Erik Jensen along the boards. Miller was unable to get back into position before Jensen fired a shot on net from below the faceoff dot and the bad-angle attempt sailed over Miller’s shoulder on the far side and into the net.
After the Badgers’ second goal, Michigan State coach Ron Mason elected to take a timeout to calm down his team. The Spartans responded by scoring five unanswered goals through the remainder of the game.
“The Badgers came out of the gate playing really hard and they got the two quick goals,” Mason said. “I was able to get a timeout at that point and just tell our guys, ‘Hey, it is a 60-minute game, it is not a five-minute game.’ I’ve been coaching a long time — you get gut feels. My gut feel was that that was the time to [call the timeout].”
“All the timeout did was calm the crowd down a little bit,” Wheeler said. “It’s a nice play by the coach but I don’t think it actually had any direct effect. I just think we got a couple of bad bounces after the timeout.”
The Spartans tied the score at 9:55 in the first period on the power play, on a shot from the circle by Whitten that beat Melanson to the near side.
“Couple of fluke goals,” Sauer said. “The second one we got wasn’t a real pretty one and the second one they got wasn’t a real pretty one.”
Michigan State used good puck movement to keep the Badgers’ penalty killers on their heels throughout the power play. Just a few seconds into the power play, Dolyny fired a slap shot from the high slot off the crossbar. About a minute later, Melanson stymied a two-on-one down low involving Spartan forwards Brian Maloney and Jeremy Jackson. The opportunities finally resulted in a goal for Michigan State when defenseman Brad Fast set up the goal with a pass from the point to Whitten.
Michigan State jumped out to a 3-2 lead after Wisconsin defenseman Jon Krall’s pass was intercepted by Spartan wing Sean Patchell in the Badgers’ zone. Patchell then found wing John Nail, who one-timed it past Melanson from the slot.
The Spartans added a power-play goal at 8:06 in the second period as defenseman John-Michael Liles shot the puck through a screen for a 4-2 lead.
Michigan State tallied its fifth goal on a pretty play by forwards Jeremy Jackson and Adam Hall. On the play, Jackson skated into the zone and turned the corner on Badger defenseman Rob Vega, who tried unsuccessfully to slide to the ice to knock the puck away. Even with Badger defenseman Jeff Dessner closing in, Jackson still managed to slide a pass toward the top of crease, fooling Melanson, who seemed sure that Jackson was going to take the shot. To complete the play, Hall somehow got his stick on the puck and sent it past a sprawling Melanson as Wisconsin wing Matt Doman was driving him to the ice.
Melanson, who gave up five goals on 27 shots, was pulled after the second period.
“He hasn’t played very well,” Sauer said. “He is in no bigger slump than anybody else is.”
“We haven’t played that well in front of him at times,” Wisconsin defenseman Alex Brooks said.
The Spartans went up 6-2 at the 14:20 mark in the third period when Nail tipped a pass from Fast in front of the crease that beat Wisconsin backup goaltender Scott Kabotoff.
“We are working hard,” Fast said. “We are not letting things change now that we are winning. We are doing the little things that got us here.”
“I thought [Wisconsin] had a good solid work ethic today,” Mason said. “They weren’t rewarded for it as much as they maybe should have been. Ryan Miller is a good goalie.”