MADISON, Wis. — The last time these two teams faced each other on a Friday night, Wisconsin scored five goals in the first period en route to a 9-4 victory.
This one, too, looked like another blowout for Wisconsin, which jumped on top less than two minutes into the game. But after taking a three-goal lead into the second period the Badgers had to fight to escape with a 4-2 win, two points and the outright lead in the WCHA.
The win also meant another school record for Wisconsin: 13 straight games without a loss in WCHA play. But the Badgers would be the first to admit that they did not play to their abilities.
“There were three things in that game that were great. We had a great start. We had great goaltending. And there was great work ethic by Michigan Tech in the second and third periods,” Wisconsin coach Mike Eaves said.
“We kind of came into this game and thought that it might’ve been an easy bye,” said Tom Gilbert, who scored the third Badger goal. “We should take this as a lesson for tomorrow night.”
Down 3-2 in the third period, the Huskies were within inches of coming back, but a potential game-tying goal was disallowed and Wisconsin tacked on the empty-netter at the end.
“[The victory] didn’t mean as much because of the way we played,” Eaves said. “Those are nice things to talk about, but we have to be concerned with the way we played.”
In the first, Andy Wozniewski passed the puck ahead to fellow captain Rene Bourque, who skated in all alone. Ellsworth slid right and Bourque took a shot to his left to give Wisconsin the early lead.
It took more than 16 more minutes for another goal, but then Wisconsin opened the floodgates.
After killing off a Husky man-advantage, their 62nd kill in 65 tries, the Badgers tallied on a power play of their own.
With two minutes to go Ellsworth blocked a Gilbert shot but left the rebound in front. Rookie Ross Carlson backhanded the puck over the goaltender’s left shoulder. Wisconsin has now scored a power-play goal in 11 straight games.
But the Badgers struck once more before the buzzer. Ryan MacMurchy was dragged down from behind while skating in alone, which gave Wisconsin the man advantage again.
With the seconds ticking away, Gilbert fired an odd-angled shot at the net which somehow found its way passed a frustrated Ellsworth, giving the Badgers a 3-0 lead with just 0.4 seconds left on the clock.
Ellsworth was probably happy to hear the buzzer in hopes of starting over. Unfortunately for him, he would not get that chance as backup Bryce Luker skated out to the net for the second period.
“We had good energy. We executed and won battles,” Eaves said. “Then we just kind of sat back and thought we’d coast on in and it almost came back to bite us in the butt.”
Indeed, the Badgers relaxed, and the Huskies controlled the majority of the final 40 minutes. The Huskies had two one-on-one opportunities in the first ten minutes of the second period but could not tally a goal.
“We have played him three times now and he has been pretty solid in every game,” Tech coach Jamie Russell said of Bruckler’s play.
They got the only goal of the period with a little more than ten minutes to go. Frank Werner skated the puck into the zone and took a shot from the top of the right circle. The puck was deflected in front and sailed past Bruckler’s glove.
Bruckler opened the final period with a great save against a two-on-one chance. His solid play between the pipes was the only reason that the Badgers escaped with a victory.
“We were embarrassed in our own barn. We were outworked in our own barn,” Eaves said. “Without Bernd in the nets we never would’ve got the points that we did.”
Michigan Tech used the man advantage and cut the deficit to one goal. Marek Dora passed the puck to Brett Engelhardt, who one-timed the puck over the glove of Bruckler.
Momentum stuck with the Huskies for the remainder of the third period. They had seemingly tied it up with less than four minutes to play, but once again things did not go their way.
Bruckler blocked a Tech shot in front but the puck bounced off of Gilbert and back towards the net. Bruckler made a diving attempt to keep the puck from crossing the line but the red light came on.
Referee Pete Friesma reviewed the play with the goal judge before waving off the game-tying goal.
“He wasn’t in position. He said that he didn’t see it,” Russell said of Friesma’s explanation. “He said he asked the goal judge two questions, ‘Did it go in?’ The goal judge said ‘Yes, I think it went in.’ and then ‘Did you see any white between the puck and the goal line?’ and he said ‘I’m not sure.’ So based on that, after turning the goal light on he disallowed the goal.”
Robbie Earl cashed in on an empty net with five seconds left to close out a 4-2 Badger victory.
The frustration was evident on Russell’s face when the night was over. His team never quit, but their efforts went unrewarded.
“I thought we deserved a better fate tonight,” he said.