MADISON, Wis. — With the WCHA standings cemented, Saturday night’s game between Minnesota-Duluth and Wisconsin was mostly for pride and preparation for the postseason.
In what turned into an ugly contest, Minnesota-Duluth skated off with a 4-1 victory in front of a sold-out crowd.
“I don’t think we could’ve walked a straight line if we wanted to,” Wisconsin coach Mike Eaves said. “I don’t think I’ve seen that many missed passes in a long time, so there was some frustration out there. It was a sloppy game.”
The teams racked up 104 minutes in penalties, an interesting stat considering the teams had so much animosity towards each other in just their second meeting this season.
“It’s just that time of the year,” Duluth coach Scott Sandelin said.
It was a battle between backup netminders, as both starting goalies were given the night off to rest for the playoffs.
The two freshmen, Brian Elliott for Wisconsin and Josh Johnson for the Bulldogs, were tested all night, but in the end Johnson’s efforts paid off.
The first period was much slower than the 25 shots on goal would suggest. But before it was over, the teams combined for 14 penalties and Minnesota-Duluth jumped out to the lead.
At the 4:28 mark of the first period the Badgers looked to take an early lead, but instead suffered their second disallowed goal of the series.
Johnson made an initial save and held onto the puck as the whistle blew. Simultaneously, Mark Heatley took a smack at the puck and it poked it into net. The goal was not only disallowed, but Heatley was dealt a minor for slashing the goalie.
The Bulldogs could not capitalize on the man-advantage, but ended up tallying midway through the period.
Junior Lessard skated the puck behind the net, drawing the attention of the Badgers, and then passed it out front to Justin Williams. Williams thrust his stick forward and poked the puck through the legs of a surprised Elliott, giving the Bulldogs a 1-0 lead.
The period was marred by penalties, many for misconduct and roughing as the officials did the best they could to make sure the contest did not get out of hand.
The second period was just as slow, yet just as feisty as the first. And again, the Bulldogs scored the period’s only goal.
Halfway through the period Junior Lessard skated in and beat one man before smacking the puck top-shelf, over the glove of Elliott.
Play remained physical and the activity after the whistle continued. After a series of penalties with less than five minutes to go, the Badgers had a decent power-play sequence but could not convert and the period ended with a 2-0 lead in favor of the Bulldogs.
Ten more minor penalties brought the total to a combined 48 minutes, more time than had actually been played on the ice.
It was the same story in the third period.
At 9:12, Minnesota-Duluth scored its first power-play goal of the weekend. Marco Peluso’s initial shot was blocked by the Badger defense, but the puck bounced straight to Bryan McGregor, who rifled the puck past Elliott’s glove giving his team the 3-0 lead.
Lessard notched another goal deep in the third period and Johnson carried a shutout into the final minutes of the game, only to see it slip away.
Johnson finished with 29 saves on the night in relief of regular starter Isaac Reichmuth.
“He played very well,” Sandelin said. “It’s too bad he had to give up that last goal, but he got in there and gave Isaac a rest. More importantly he got the win and that gives him some confidence.”
The game concluded with multiple penalties and fighting after Ryan Swanson slashed Nick Licari in the back of the leg. The referees, who had a busy night, were presumably happy when the dust settled and the teams concluded the game and shook hands.
Wisconsin pointed to an off-week of practice as one of the reasons for their troubles this weekend.
“We are a little bit of a byproduct of our week of practice. We always say that you play as you practice and we didn’t have a good week,” Eaves said.
Saturday’s game was all Duluth. The high-energy win was just what the Bulldogs were looking for as the postseason arrives.
“We needed to end the year on a win and our guys went out there and played a great game,” Sandelin said. “We played a solid game for 60 minutes and ended the year with a win.”
In the opposing locker room, the Badgers felt that if they faced the Bulldogs again, which could happen in two weeks, that they are well-prepared.
“The first thing we talked about was let’s not let tonight’s lone game [detract] from what we achieved in the regular season,” Eaves said. “And I asked the guys if they’d like a chance to play this team again, and absolutely the answer was there.”
Minnesota-Duluth will take on Minnesota State at home next weekend while Wisconsin will host Alaska-Anchorage in the first round of the WCHA playoffs.