MADISON, Wis. — Wisconsin pulled out a 3-2 overtime victory in game one of a best-of-three WCHA playoff series with Mankato Friday, and in what has become a Kohl Center theme this season, the win came on a controversial goal.
At 7:06 of overtime, senior center Matt Murray fired a wrist shot on Mankato sophomore goaltender Jason Jensen. The puck appeared to go to the left of Jensen, and a heartbeat later ended up underneath him.
Jensen covered the puck with his glove hand well clear of the goal line. The goal judge, however, wasted no time lighting the lamp.
Referee Mike Schmitt did not initially signal a goal, but after consulting with the goal judge ruled that the puck did indeed cross the line.
“There is nothing we can do about it now,” Mankato coach Troy Jutting said. “I thought it hit the post and came right back and was laying underneath [Jensen]. And that was what my goaltender and my defenseman [Aaron Forsythe] who was standing right there thought too.”
“From my angle I didn’t think it was a goal,” Forsythe said. “I saw a good shot go off the post and come back under Jensen.”
Jutting was very calm after the game.
“I thought our kids played very well,” he said. “That one is over and we have to come back and play very well tomorrow night. If getting mad and stomping around would do anything I would do that, but there is nothing we can do right now.”
For his part, Murray was not sure whether it went in or not.
“All I saw was it go behind him and the red light go on,” Murray said.
“From my vantage point and from what I heard happen and from as quick as the red light went on — as soon as I heard the puck hit the pipe the red light was on,” Wisconsin coach Jeff Sauer said. “It was inconclusive on the replays.”
The Mavericks fought back in the third period to send the game into overtime. Down 2-1 with barely two minutes to play, Mankato sophomore Tim Jackman won a faceoff in the Badger end directly to linemate Cole Bassett, who fired the puck past Badger netminder Scott Kabotoff.
Ironically, the Badger center on the play was Murray, who had been very good on faceoffs to that point in the game.
“It is tough to lose a draw like that,” Murray said. “You win them all night and then a guy happens to win one, and he scores a goal.”
Mankato freshman center Grant Stevenson gave the Mavericks the lead early in the first period, but the Badgers scored twice in the second to take a 2-1 advantage.
Sophomore center John Eichelberger netted Wisconsin’s first goal at 10:42 in the second after a pretty setup from junior wing Eric Jensen. Sophomore defenseman Dan Boeser started the play by skating down the sideboards from his point position, then finding Jensen cutting through the circle. Jensen let a Maverick slide to the ice, skated to the bottom of the circle and placed a perfect pass on Eichelberger’s stick in front of the crease. Eichelberger finished the play with a one-timer just inside the far post.
“It was a very nice play,” Sauer said. “That line worked extremely hard tonight. I thought Jensen may have had his best game.”
Boeser made another nice play about six minutes later to set up the Badgers’ second goal, this time getting to a puck just before it crossed the blue line to keep it in the zone. Boeser then fed senior center Kent Davyduke at the top of the circle, who quickly moved the puck to senior wing Matt Hussey in the slot. Hussey’s initial shot caromed off Maverick sophomore defenseman Matt Paluczak, but Hussey found the loose puck and shelved it on Mankato’s Jensen.
The story, however, was the game-winning goal.
“It can’t come off the back of the net that fast,” Jutting said. “They never do. It is a fate we have to accept right now. It is a three-game series for a reason. We have to come back tomorrow night and make sure that we don’t feel the same way that we do right now in the locker room.”
“I haven’t seen the replay, but the way he was shooting and the angle he was coming at and the way it came back to me — for all the years I’ve played goal, I don’t think that is a goal,” Jensen said.
“If it is, I’ll be the first one to admit it. I heard it hit the pipe and I looked back, and it is coming straight back to me. And at the angle that it is coming back to me, I figured there is no way it could go in because when you are shooting from that side it is going to hit the pipe and go in. Not to take anything away from them — they played a great game — but my personal opinion is that it is not a goal.
“You know the bounces from pipes. I have been playing goal 15, 16 years, and I mean just the way that came back, I don’t think it is possible for it to cross the line. We just have to come back tomorrow and play a solid game, so hopefully it doesn’t come back to that call again.”
Controversy has been drawn to the Kohl Center this season. Friday’s game marked no fewer than the fifth game this season where one team or another benefited from a controversial play.
On Dec. 7 against North Dakota, the Badgers scored their fifth goal following an iffy high-sticking penalty called by an assistant referee. After the game, UW freshman center Alex Leavitt said he “embellished a little” on the play. Wisconsin went on to win 7-6.
On Jan. 25, St. Cloud scored the tying goal in a 2-2 finish with an apparent man in the crease.
Feb 2, Alaska-Anchorage’s game-winner with 1:30 left to play crossed the line after referee Derek Shepherd blew the whistle. The goal stood and Wisconsin lost, 3-2.
Feb. 16, Wisconsin lost with seven seconds remaining after a waved-off icing call on Denver, followed by icing on a similar play by the Badgers, led to a faceoff in Wisconsin’s zone. The Pioneers won 3-2.
Following Friday’s victory, Murray said the Badgers deserved a break.
“I wouldn’t call it a gift, but it was about time we caught a break,” he said. “Game after game we have lost them late on goals that might not have gone in or whatever, questionable calls, so I think it was about time we got one in our favor.”