MADISON, Wis. — The Wisconsin Badgers, fresh off an epic 4-3 win on Friday night, came back Saturday and completed the sweep of No. 1 North Dakota, 5-2, capping off one of the biggest weekends for Wisconsin hockey in recent memory.
“We are for real; we’re not a joke. We’d been looking forward to this series for a while and we proved ourselves tonight and last night,” Wisconsin senior Rene Bourque said.
North Dakota outshot Wisconsin 43-23, but Wisconsin goalie Bernd Bruckler came up big, making 41 saves for a series total of 66.
“When the goaltender is in that zone it is awful difficult to get the puck by him,” Wisconsin coach Mike Eaves said.
The Badgers, who learned Friday how the fans can shift momentum in a game, used physical play and scoring to keep the sellout crowd of 15,237 involved.
The Sioux, conversely, could not find a way to beat Bruckler and the Badgers.
“I thought we played well defensively and created some offense, it’s just that at critical moments of the game they scored a few goals and we can’t have that at this time of year,” North Dakota assistant coach Brad Berry said.
The first period was characterized by physical play. Neither team could take the lead, despite an apparent North Dakota goal at the buzzer.
The referee originally signaled that the goal was good, but after consulting his assistants, decided that time had expired before the goal was scored, and subsequently waved the goal off as the teams retreated to their locker rooms.
The scoring picked up in the second, as the teams combined for four goals. North Dakota got on top with a power-play goal less than four minutes in.
Brandon Bochenski took the puck in the neutral zone and got it to Zach Parise on the odd-man rush. Parise passed the puck to the right circle and Brady Murray one-timed it over the shoulder of Bruckler.
The Badgers countered midway through the period when goal-scoring leader Ryan MacMurchy made a good move to break his streak of 12 games without a goal.
The sophomore made a good move around one defender and fired the puck from the right side of Parise. Parise got a glove on it but could not complete the catch and the puck continued into the net.
“It was a long time, that’s for sure. I wanted a goal real bad and it feels great to get that off,” MacMurchy said.
Over the next few minutes, Bruckler fended off two odd-man rushes, one by Parise and Bochenski. The junior goalie made 12 more saves in the second, thwarting the Sioux.
“He made some key saves at some key opportunities,” Berry said.
“What a goaltender gives a team, especially a young team, is that ability to shake off mistakes and have short memories,” Eaves said. “We gave up some odd-man rushes but he was there for us.”
Down on the other end of the ice, things were not going quite as well for Jordan Parise as the Badgers tacked on two more goals in the last five minutes of the period.
Jake Dowell got a monkey of his own off his back with under five minutes to go.
North Dakota committed a turnover in the neutral zone as the puck slid through defenseman Nick Fuher’s legs, and Dowell, who hadn’t scored in 11 games, carried the puck into the offensive zone, past one defender and ripped a shot right on. Parise again got a glove on the puck, but again it got by him and gave the Badgers the lead.
Then, with a minute and a half to play, Robbie Earl got his fourth goal of the weekend. Earl fired from the center of the zone, a wrister that blew by Parise’s late attempt with his glove.
The goal ended up being the game-winner, giving Earl both winning goals on the weekend.
Parise made 10 saves in two periods and allowed three goals, enough for North Dakota coach Dean Blais to put in Jake Brandt for the final period.
But Brandt got off on the wrong foot.
With a little more than a minute gone by in the third, the puck was poked into the Badger zone towards the goalie. Brandt tried to play the puck but ended up passing it directly to Bourque for the easy goal, giving his team a three-goal lead.
Zach Parise and Bochenski hooked up with Murray again with less than eight minutes to go, but that was all that the Sioux were going to get.
Bourque put in the empty-netter to seal the deal, and then things got out of hand.
With 40 seconds left, all 10 players on the ice engaged in a scrum which resulted in all of them receiving double minors for roughing and being sent off the ice.
The five Badgers waited as the seconds ticked down, and then came back out to celebrate the sweep.
The tandem of North Dakota goaltenders, usually strong, struggled.
“[Our goaltending] has been strong all year, and tonight is wasn’t the strongest for us and that’s when we needed it,” Berry said.
For the Badgers, goaltending proved to be the key to victory again.
“I knew going into tonight that they would come out with a lot of fire and that’s what they did. But I was able to sustain that pressure,” Bruckler said.
“He’s been a big part of our formula all year in terms of us getting W’s, and once again he was part of that formula tonight,” Eaves said.
The losses leave North Dakota tied for first place in the WCHA with Minnesota-Duluth. Wisconsin and St. Cloud State are within range, just three points back.