MADISON, Wis. — Wisconsin needed a response. Its senior scoring leader provided it early.
Rene Bourque scored two minutes into the game, A.J. Degenhardt scored twice and Bernd Brckler earned his third shutout of the season as the third-seeded Badgers beat Alaska-Anchorage 4-0 on Saturday at the Kohl Center.
Wisconsin stayed alive in the first round of the WCHA playoffs, forcing a decisive Game 3 with the Seawolves on Sunday.
On Friday, the Seawolves stunned the Badgers 3-2, breaking an 0-for-22 string all-time in the WCHA playoffs. But Wisconsin came back strong on Saturday, outshooting UAA 45-16.
Bourque set the Badgers on their way, scoring off a turnover in the game’s early stages.
“That’s what we needed to do: respond,” said Bourque, who has 35 points and is tied for the team lead with 15 goals. “We just carried the momentum from there.”
Brckler made 16 saves, and Ryan MacMurchy also scored for the Badgers (21-11-8), who are 25-5 at home in the league playoffs since 1988.
Kevin Reiter made 41 saves for the eighth-seeded Seawolves (12-21-3), who were shut out for the third time this season.
“They played like a team that was out to prove a point,” Alaska-Anchorage coach John Hill said of the Badgers. “And they made it.”
Degenhardt scored his two second-period goals around MacMurchy’s score. His second came on a breakaway after a long pass from linemate Adam Burish caught the Seawolves in a slow line change.
Wisconsin coach Mike Eaves said it’s often a give-and-take with wingers and scoring chances. One night, they’ll be the player doing all the work in the corner.
“Tonight, he was the guy getting the puck to the net for some chances,” Eaves said. “He could have had four.”
Degenhardt’s first goal gave the Badgers a 2-0 lead — important because Wisconsin outshot the Seawolves on Friday, too, but couldn’t add to its 1-0 lead before UAA tied the game.
“It’s always huge to get a little cushion,” Degenhardt said. “In the playoffs, any time you can pull away from a team and keep it from being a close game, that’s going to be huge.”
A night after allowing three goals on six power plays, the Wisconsin penalty killers kept the Seawolves off the scoreboard on four chances.
“Last night, we weren’t getting in the shooting lanes,” said Degenhardt, one of the Badgers’ penalty killers. “Tonight, we did a good job of blocking the shots and not letting the puck get through.”
Said Eaves: “Better execution all the way around. We did a better job with everything on the ice. … The penalty kill set the tempo.”
Brckler also shut out the Seawolves 3-0 on Feb. 27, six days after blanking St. Cloud State by the same score.
Wisconsin improved to 4-3 in games it which it could be eliminated in the first round since the WCHA changed its playoff format to a best-of-three series in 1988. Before Saturday, the Badgers had lost their last three elimination games in the first round, at Minnesota State last season, at home against St. Cloud State in 1999 and at Colorado College in 1997.
The Badgers have come back to win a first-round series after losing the first game only once in four tries. In 1995, they lost the first game to Northern Michigan but rallied for wins in Games 2 and 3 to advance to the Final Five.
Hill has played goaltenders Chris King, who made 45 saves on Friday, and Reiter in a rotation for most of the season. Before the series, Hill said that was going to be the plan again, with the hopes of King, who has better statistics, being fresh for a possible Game 3 on Sunday.
“I’ll be honest: I did not expect to come here and win two games in a row,” Hill said. “I do believe we can win two games.”
So who has the momentum for the deciding game?
“I think the way they played, they’ve got momentum,” Hill said, perhaps trying to swing the pressure onto the Badgers. “But we’ll see tomorrow.”