MADISON, Wis. — For the second straight Friday night, the Wisconsin Badgers did not bring their “A” game. Last weekend they suffered a 4-0 defeat to Michigan State, but this time they stuck to the basics and fought out a 3-2 victory over Minnesota-Duluth.
It was not a pretty game by any means, but was won by grinding pucks along the boards and taking advantage of bounces. The stat sheet showed how close the game was as both teams posted 25 shots on goal.
“I don’t think we were at our best tonight,” UW head coach Mike Eaves said. “The kids kept things simple. It was a growth for us in terms of playing as a mature team on a night when things weren’t easy.”
“I thought it was a pretty even game. They capitalized on their opportunities and that’s the name of the game sometimes,” Duluth head coach Scott Sandelin said.
Just two weeks ago against Brown, Duluth lost the game on a last-second shot. It was the other way around Friday, as the Bulldogs scored with just one-tenth of a second left in the first period. But even though they got an early power play to start the second period, they were unable to retain the momentum.
After a slow start, the Badgers got on the board first. Andrew Joudrey worked the puck around behind the net before passing it to Robbie Earl, who one-timed the puck high over the glove of Josh Johnson to give Wisconsin the 1-0 lead with five minutes left in the period.
“The first period was tough,” junior captain Adam Burish said. “We had to figure out a way to get it done … and get back to simple things.”
It was one of very few points in the first period when the Badgers were able to get pressure in their offensive zone, and the lackluster period got even worse with less than a minute to play.
A holding call on Jeff Likens with 36 seconds left spelled doom for the Badgers. With time running down, Evan Schwabe found Tim Stapleton at the top of the zone. Stapleton fired a shot that went between Bernd Bruckler’s legs with just 0.1 seconds showing on the clock.
If ever there was a time where the Bulldogs were to take control of the game it was the opening minutes of the second period. Earl was called for crosschecking just 16 seconds into the period, giving Duluth a power play. The Badgers successfully killed the man-advantage and regained the momentum, scoring less than one minute after killing that penalty.
“I thought when we got the power play we didn’t really accomplish anything,” Sandelin said. “They had some momentum and came back and got a goal.”
Jake Dowell tried to pass the puck to the top of the crease, but instead wound up scoring a goal when it bounced off UMD’s Neil Petruic and into the net, giving the Badgers the 2-1 lead.
They took that lead into the second intermission and came back to the ice for the final 20 minutes looking to gut out a win.
The two teams battled evenly until a well-executed passing sequence on Badger break. Joe Pavelski skated the puck in and passed it left to Kyle Klubertanz, who sent it across the zone to a bolting Burish. He got his stick on the puck and it found its way under the leg of Johnson, increasing the lead to two.
However, the Bulldogs did not give up, and got one goal back less than two minutes later. Schwabe won a draw back to Nick Anderson who fired a wrister to the far-side past Bruckler and Duluth found itself within 3-2.
Duluth got another power play at the 13:33 mark of the period, but the Badgers’ top-ranked penalty kill kept the puck out of the net again. The Bulldogs had their chances late, including a close one-timer from Marco Peluso that just went wide, but the Badgers staved off the attack for the one-goal victory.
“As the game went on we got better. It was one of those nights where things just start going your way,” Burish said. “But it’s encouraging that we found a way to come together and get a win.”
Asked whether the Badgers were better than the Bulldogs, neither coach had the answer.
“I don’t think they really did anything better than us,” Sandelin said. For the Bulldogs, it was the lack of goals that kept them from victory again. They have scored three or more goals just twice since Oct. 28, and have now won just two times in their last nine games.
“Right now I would say that we scored a third goal, that’s it,” Eaves said.
“I was pleased with our performance tonight,” Sandelin said. “Again we just struggled to score goals. We had chances and they had a good goaltender too.”
The Badgers, meanwhile, find themselves in a mental funk. They did not have a good week of practice and now have to find a way back to a higher intensity.
“We have to work through it,” Eaves said. “Tomorrow will come back and see how our legs feel. But, we solved the riddle of the game and we got the job done.”
“We struggled a little bit. I think we just have to take it day by day,” Earl said.
The two teams square off again Saturday night as Wisconsin tries to keep pace with league-leading North Dakota and the Bulldogs try to avoid a sweep.