MADISON, Wis. — Wisconsin goalie Bernd Bruckler came into Saturday with just one shutout in his 71-game career, in his first collegiate game two seasons ago.
Bruckler picked a great time — for Wisconsin at least — to end that streak. The 3-0 victory over St. Cloud State Saturday evening gave the Badgers sole possession of third place in the WCHA.
“It’s been a while, that’s for sure,” Bruckler said. “I’ve worked a lot over these two and a half years on rebound control, playing the puck, communicating with my defenseman, and just playing my angles and I think I’ve improved a lot.”
Of course he got some of those lucky bounces, shots that hit pipes, and help from his defenseman that opposing netminder Tim Boron did not.
“When you watch [Bruckler] right now it looks like he’s in control,” Wisconsin coach Mike Eaves said. “And such a huge part of a goaltender’s equipment is his confidence, and he has that in spades.”
Give credit to Boron for his effort in net for the Huskies. The rookie stopped 63 of 66 shots, but did not get enough help from his offense.
“When you play that well in the net, both goalies, you kind of deserve to win,” St. Cloud State coach Craig Dahl said.
The tight game was similar to Friday night’s contest, but this time Wisconsin got the bounces it needed, and a goalie who stopped everything.
The first period was quick, with few whistles. The fast-paced, back-and-forth action provided decent chances for both teams. The goalies did their best not to allow any second chances, but the one that Boron gave up, he would have liked to have back.
Rookie Ross Carlson got his second goal of the series and his 14th point in 14 games with 2:03 left in the first.
John Eichelberger passed the puck from behind the net to Carlson who took a shot from between the circles. Boron blocked the puck to his right. But Carlson got his own rebound and backhanded the puck into the net giving Wisconsin the 1-0 lead.
The goal ended up being the game-winner, a nice present for Carlson on his birthday.
The second period was much the same as the first. Again, both teams had opportunities to score, but neither team could put the puck in the net.
Each team had one power play, and Wisconsin spent the majority of their two minutes with the advantage in their offensive zone, but just could not score.
St. Cloud State came within inches of tying the game just before the buzzer. Dave Iannazzo slapped a shot at Bruckler that blasted off the pipe with 0.7 seconds left.
“Some nights the bounces just don’t go your way,” Iannazzo said.
The scoring chances continued early on in the third period. St. Cloud State came close, again rattling the pipe about one minute into the period.
Seven minutes into the period the Huskies put the puck in the net, but the would-be game-tying goal was waved off because Matt Hendricks blatantly knocked it in with a high stick.
Four minutes later Wisconsin walk-on Mark Heatley gave the Badgers a two-goal lead.
With bodies sprawling and much traffic in front of Boron, the Badgers hacked away until Heatley put it home.
“[Getting traffic in front of the goalie] makes his job more difficult. Mr. Boron played well. He was seeing the puck and making the stops that he should have. But if you don’t see the puck you can’t save it,” Eaves said.
The freshman took advantage of his opportunity to play after being a healthy scratch from the lineup for the past four games.
“I felt really good tonight. I was really excited to be out there. You just realize how much you miss it when you don’t play,” Heatley said.
Rene Bourque later put in an empty-net goal to put the nail in the Huskies’ coffin.
The win was Bruckler’s 15th of the season and the 30th of his career at Wisconsin. The junior stopped 47 of 48 shots on the weekend and has been the most valuable player for Wisconsin all season.
With two weeks left in league play, this was just one of many pivotal games.
The win gives Wisconsin sole possession of third place, seven points behind first-place Minnesota-Duluth (which the Badgers play in the final weekend of the season) and just three points ahead of fifth-place Minnesota.
“It was a huge weekend for us to come out of it ahead of St. Cloud,” Bruckler said. “But we’ve got four games left and we have to focus on what’s ahead.”
The disappointing loss leaves St. Cloud in fourth place and only one point ahead of the Gophers (whom the Huskies play in the last series of the season).
“You’ve just got to take it like it is and get back to work,” Iannazzo said. “It’s tough to lose a game when we played pretty tough.”
“There’s no shame in losing a game when you play that hard,” Dahl said.
But with the style and intensity of play, not to mention yet another sellout crowd at the Kohl Center, it was hard to believe that the playoffs were not already under way.
“We match up to this team so closely. Just great hockey this weekend in terms of what we’re going to see in the playoffs,” Eaves said.