MADISON, WI — Top-ranked Denver maintained its one-point lead in the WCHA standings Friday with a 5-2 victory over Wisconsin. The Pioneers withstood an early challenge and dominated the final two periods, outshooting the Badgers 37-13 in the final 40 minutes.
“That is the best that I have seen (Denver) play against us this year,” Wisconsin coach Jeff Sauer said.
Denver senior centers Chris Paradise and David Neale contributed two goals apiece and junior goaltender Wade Dubielewicz made 23 saves.
Down 2-1 in the second period, Paradise scored twice on two-on-one rushes to give the Pioneers a 3-2 lead. Denver controlled the final period from start to finish, adding two more goals and limiting the Badgers opportunities.
“I thought our better players really struggled tonight,” Sauer said. “At times we looked tired and slow. When you make mistakes against a team like Denver they are very opportunistic.”
After losing three straight games before last weekend’s series against Duluth, Denver is now 2-0-1 in its last three and has 37 points in the WCHA standings. St. Cloud kept pace with a 7-4 win against Alaska-Anchorage to keep one point back with five games remaining.
“We have had a few slow starts lately,” Neale said. “We can’t really afford to do that anymore, but it is nice when we can turn it on.”
Wisconsin had a hard time swallowing its defeat Friday night. The Badgers are now 0-3-1 in their last four outings.
“We are struggling,” Badger senior wing Matt Doman said. “We probably played four good shifts all game. We got dominated tonight.
“We don’t have focus, so it is tougher for it to be disrupted. When the guys that are supposed to be leading the team are part of the problem it makes it harder for the guys who are supposed to be learning from us.
“It is frustrating knowing how good we could be and how good we are.”
Wisconsin, however, still clings to a narrow two-point lead over Mankato and a three-point lead over Anchorage for home ice in the first round of the WCHA playoffs.
“We didn’t lose any ground to the people behind us with what is going on,” Sauer said. “We still have got ourselves in a position for home ice. That is the goal right now.”
Wisconsin opened the game’s scoring when senior wing Dave Hergert put home a rebound opportunity less than three minutes into the contest. Neale tied the game about four minutes later, but UW senior center Matt Murray deflected junior defenseman Brian Fahey’s shot past Dubielewicz to give Wisconsin a 2-1 lead after one period.
“They had a lot of traffic in the first period and they were throwing the puck at the net from everywhere,” Dubielewicz said. “There were a couple of tips and I couldn’t seem to get the angle on the puck that I wanted to get it into the corner.”
Wisconsin controlled the action for much of the first period, but Dubielewicz kept Denver in it, then shut the Badgers down in the final two periods.
“I thought their goaltender at times played extremely well,” Sauer said. “We didn’t have a lot of great chances but the ones we did have he came out big on.”
Denver turned the tide in the second period, peppering Badger freshman goaltender Bernd Bruckler with 19 shots and taking advantage of two Wisconsin miscues that led to two-on-one breaks.
Each time junior defenseman Mark Jackson was left on an island as Paradise led the Denver rush. And each time, Paradise used the threat of a pass to get an open shot and beat Bruckler twice to give the Pioneers a 3-2 lead.
“Second goal we made a mistake,” Sauer said. “Third goal a defenseman pinched off the faceoff and gave them a two-on-one break.”
Denver continued its dominance in the final frame; outshooting the Badgers 18-7 and giving Wisconsin fits throughout.
Pioneer junior center Kevin Doell made it 4-2 at 11:03 in the third when he shelved a wrist shot from the circle. Neale clinched the victory about five minutes later with his second goal of the game.
“I thought we outworked them in the second and third and they outworked us in the first,” Dubielewicz said. Wisconsin junior goaltender Scott Kabotoff, who has not played since injuring his knee Jan. 25 against St. Cloud, may see action Saturday night.
“It is really his call,” Sauer said. “He is the one who has to come up with whether he is ready to go or not. Doctors and everybody have said he is OK to play.”