MADISON, Wis. — After Friday’s 2-1 loss to Denver, Wisconsin coach Jeff Sauer told his team that, for the first time all year, the next day’s game was a must-win for the Badgers.
It appeared early on that the Badgers had heard Sauer’s message as UW jumped out to a 2-0 lead 15 minutes into the game.
From that point on, however, it was evident things where just not going to go as Sauer had hoped with Denver scoring a goal in both the second and third period.
With neither team finding the back of the net in the overtime period, the game ended in a 2-2 tie, leaving Wisconsin with only one win in its last eight games at the Kohl Center.
“It was a tough game with a lot on the line [and] we played a lot better tonight,” Sauer said. “It’s not a win, but it’s not a loss, that’s the positive.”
Wisconsin struck first in the game as Matt Hussey was able to deflect a rebound into the back of the net on a UW power play at the 14-minute mark. Matt Murray and Dany Heatley were credited with assists on the play.
Only 45 seconds later, a Denver penalty gave Wisconsin another power-play opportunity that UW converted into its second goal of the game.
Murray maneuvered himself a few feet in front of the goal, took a pass from Heatley and sent a wrister past Denver goaltender Wade Dubielwicz, giving Wisconsin a 2-0 lead.
The two power-play goals made up for Wisconsin’s failures earlier in the period, when UW had a two-man advantage for 51 seconds but was unable to score against a Denver defense that stiffened up.
Wisconsin went 2-for-6 on the power play against the WCHA’s third-best penalty killing unit.
“Our power play was excellent tonight,” Sauer said about an element that has often been missing from this season’s squad.
The second period saw the Pioneers come out with a little more energy then the Badgers and it paid off for Denver as it cut UW’s lead to 2-1 with a power-play goal 3:07 into the period.
“I’m disappointed after tonight. I thought we had the game controlled and we let them back in it,” Heatley said.
Denver’s Connor James passed the puck through the heart of the Wisconsin defense to find Matt Weber, who was position just to UW goaltender Graham Melanson’s left. Weber then managed to shoot the puck off Melanson’s pad and into the goal.
In the third, the two teams had a flurry of shots — combining for 28 in the period — but only one of them managed to find its way into the goal.
Early on in the third, Wisconsin found itself with a power-play opportunity and had a shot that almost netted the Badgers a goal.
On the play, a UW shot went through Dubielwicz’s legs and came to a stop just in front of the goal, but Wisconsin was unable to get a stick on it before it was covered up.
From there, Denver took on an offensive assault that Wisconsin nearly survived, but Melanson had another shot go off his body and into the net.
This time around, Denver’s Greg Barber came straight in on Melanson, fired a shot high that hit off Melanson’s shoulder and landed in the back of the net, knotting the score at 2-2 with a little under seven minutes remaining in regulation.
From that point on, excellent goaltending and a little bad luck kept Wisconsin from winning the game.
“We didn’t get the break we needed,” Sauer said.
In overtime, Kent Davyduke had a chance to win the game as he skated in on the right side of the Denver goaltender with a clear shot at the net. Davyduke took his time looking for the best angle, but ended up putting the shot a little tight as the puck ricocheted off the cross bar.
On the other side of the ice, a clutch glove save by Melanson preserved the tie for Wisconsin, which left the Kohl Center ice in sixth place in the WCHA.