ANN ARBOR, Mich. — Who knew that the Badgers would lose twice to the Wolverines because of special teams? Just as a punt return and two blocked punts cost the Wisconsin football team a victory two weekends ago, special teams cost the hockey team in a 5-3 loss to Michigan on Saturday night.
Entering Saturday’s game, the Badgers had limited their opponents’ success to just 7.4 percent with the man advantage. The Badgers had killed off 31 straight power plays.
Saturday was a completely different story, as Wisconsin’s usually strong special teams unit gave up three power play tallies (albeit one came on an empty net) and a shorthanded goal.
Wisconsin (6-6-0 overall, 4-2-0 WCHA) lost for the 15th time in 18 games of College Hockey Showcase play, which pits Minnesota and Wisconsin against Michigan and Michigan State. Michigan split the series after sweeping both Minnesota and Wisconsin on the road last season.
“Those are two good teams we play every year to get experience to put in the bank later on,” said Wisconsin coach Jeff Sauer after his team lost two close games. “We played well. We walked out of here with our heads held high.”
Wisconsin’s special teams shutout streak ended quickly against Michigan (6-5-2, 4-3-2 CCHA) as Mike Cammalleri scored at the 6:23 mark of the first period during the Wolverines’ first power play to give Michigan a 1-0 lead.
Sauer said that one of the reasons why the penalty kill disappeared Saturday was the absence of one of the Badgers’ best penalty killers, Kent Davyduke. Davyduke, who sat out Friday’s game against Michigan State due to a game disqualification last weekend, sat out Saturday with a hand injury.
“He would have played if it was a playoff game,” Sauer said. “He’ll be back next week.”
The Badgers rebounded before the period ended, scoring two goals in a span of 30 seconds off the sticks of sophomore Rene Bourque and senior Matt Murray to take a 2-1 lead.
After Michigan tied the game back up at two in the second period, the Wolverines increased their lead to 3-2 on a mistake by freshman goaltender Bernd Bruckler. Bruckler played the puck behind the goal and swung the puck along the right boards. Michigan defenseman Mike Komisarek quickly slapped the puck toward the net. The puck deflected off the stick of Brian Fahey right in front of the crease into the net before Bruckler could get back into position.
The game looked bleak for the Badgers when Komisarek tallied a shorthanded goal at the 5:16 mark in the third to give the Wolverines a 4-2 advantage. But Dan Boeser responded 26 seconds later with a tally from the top left circle to make it 4-3 with about 15 minutes remaining.
Wisconsin pulled Bruckler with just over a minute left. But a tripping penalty on Bourque with 40 seconds left all but ended the Badgers chances of tying the game. Michigan scored an empty netter, the Wolverines’ third power play goal, with seven seconds left.
“I thought we competed a lot harder tonight,” Michigan coach Red Berenson said after his team was blown out by Minnesota the night before. “I thought we played stronger on the puck, stronger in one-on-one battles. We knew Wisconsin would be an older, stronger team. Most of their players are upperclassmen and we know how they play. I thought it was a good challenge for our team to hang in there with them.”
Notes: Michigan outshot the Badgers 41-25. … Bruckler (36 saves) started in goal for just the third time this season. Bruckler and Scott Kabotoff alternated in Wisconsin’s first four games.. … Wisconsin is now 1-5 in games decided by two goals or less.. … Andy Wheeler, who had two assists, left the game in the third period with a twisted ankle. Sauer said he will play next week.. … Michigan’s Mike Roemensky and J.J. Swistak were healthy scratches.