MADISON, Wis. — After a month away from winning, Wisconsin made sure it would have another weekend at home this season.
The Badgers clinched home ice for the first round of the WCHA playoffs with a 3-1 win over Minnesota-Duluth Friday. Coupled with Denver’s 4-3 overtime victory at North Dakota, Friday’s play put Wisconsin in sole possession of fifth place in the conference standings and guaranteed a first-round playoff matchup with Minnesota State-Mankato.
The victory was Wisconsin’s first since a 5-4 win over Alaska-Anchorage Feb. 1.
“It was a good win for us; we needed that,” Wisconsin coach Jeff Sauer said. “Now we can sit back and get ready for another game tomorrow night. I want to keep a string going here going into the playoffs if we can.”
The Badgers withstood a first-period flurry by the Bulldogs and took control thereafter. Sparkling goaltending from Wisconsin junior Scott Kabotoff and Duluth junior Rob Anderson kept the game scoreless for more than 39 minutes.
“We weathered the storm, Scotty played well and then we got ourselves on track,” Sauer said. “Second period I thought we took the play to them, but Anderson was excellent. I was very impressed with the goaltender. I thought he made some really big saves at crucial times and kept them in the hockey game.”
Kabotoff had 34 saves in the victory, but lost a shutout with just 21seconds left to play.
“It is frustrating, but it is all right,” Kabotoff said. “I don’t live for getting a shutout, I just live to win. Denver won so we are in the fifth spot, we are playing against Mankato next weekend here. We just had to go out there and win, and that is really nice.”
Anderson made 15 of his 29 saves in the second period but Wisconsin’s Brad Winchester final solved him at 19:10 in the period. With the Badgers on a power play, Winchester received a pass in the circle from senior center Kent Davyduke, fended off a Duluth defender and fired a wrist shot that skirted between Anderson’s pads.
“They got momentum in the second period off the power play and they kept it going,” Duluth coach Scott Sandelin said. “We didn’t do anything. We didn’t generate anything.”
In the midst of a hard-hitting, wide-open third period that included a combined 25 shots on goal and 10 minor penalties, Matt Doman put a backhand over Anderson’s shoulder from close range to give the Badgers a commanding 2-0 lead with less than six minutes to play.
Duluth took a rare gamble and pulled Anderson at 17:10 in the third. Just 18 seconds later, UW senior center Matt Murray made it a three-goal lead with his 12th tally of the season.
A series of penalties late in the third period resulted in a two-man advantage for the Bulldogs with 1:19 left to play. Duluth pulled Anderson again, allowing them to set up six on three in the offensive zone.
Kabotoff fended off the first six shots he faced during the sequence, but yielded a goal at 19:39. On the play, senior wing Judd Medak fired a slapshot from the point that deflected off two sticks and wobbled over Kabotoff’s blocker.
Kabotoff and the Badgers withstood a barrage in the first period, when Duluth put 16 pucks on net. However, not all of the shots were exactly high-quality.
“I think about 10 of them were right at my gut,” Kabotoff said, adding sarcastically, “you know, that is fine by me. If they want to shoot there, I think I can stop them most of the time.”
“We shot a lot of pucks at Kabotoff again for about the 120th time in three games, so we made him look good,” Sandelin said. “He made a couple of saves at the end, but he didn’t have to make very many difficult saves.”
Wisconsin had plenty of opportunities before Winchester’s goal, including two other power plays. On one sequence early in the second period, Anderson made a nice kick save on a shot from the slot by junior wing Eric Jensen. Moments later Anderson stoned UW sophomore wing Jake Heisler then stopped a rebound chance by Jensen.
Anderson made yet another save during the sequence before a penalty was called at 6:52 to put the Badgers on a power play. On that advantage, a rebound caromed onto the stick of Wisconsin sophomore defenseman Andy Wozniewski in the circle. Anderson was left badly out of position, but Wozniewski pulled the shot too much and hit the side of the net.
“That second period I thought maybe we were never going to score the way we were getting shots, but just not putting it away,” Sauer said.