MANKATO, Minn. — Friday night, Wisconsin couldn’t make a third period lead stick. Saturday, the Badgers were able to finish the job.
UW (13-5-0, 10-4-0 WCHA) used special teams and a 31-save performance from goalie Bernd Bruckler to defeat Minnesota State by a score of 3-2.
The Badgers went 2-4 on the power play and killed all seven of the Mavericks’ power plays, including one in the final two minutes of the game.
MSU (7-7-2 overall, 4-7-1 WCHA) came within inches of tying the game in the third. After Jon Dubel made it a 3-2 game midway through the final period, Minnesota State went on their sixth power play of the contest.
Kyle Peto took a shot from the point that beat Bruckler, but the shot hit the crossbar and bounced away, leaving the 3,615 fans in attendance groaning.
“It’s very frustrating,” MSU captain Brad Thompson said. “We had a lot of chances where we could have scored, and we just didn’t put it home. It hurts a lot.”
“We kept saying bend but don’t break on the bench, bend but don’t break,” Wisconsin captain and penalty killer Adam Burish said.
Then, while Minnesota State had a man advantage and an extra skater in the final minute, UW’s Nick Licari came through with a huge shot block to keep the Mavericks at bay.
“I said on the bench, ‘Where do we want to be at the end? This is like playoff hockey. You’ve got to learn to make plays and play with poise and confidence.’ So we settled down and we played better, which is an experience you have to go through. And they’re better players right now,” said Wisconsin coach Mike Eaves.
The second period was the key to the game for Wisconsin. With the game tied 1-1, the Badgers scored 38 seconds into the period. On the power play, sophomore Robbie Earl took a pass from Kyle Klubertanz and blistered a shot from the right point that beat MSU goalie Jon Volp. The goal was Earl’s team-leading 10th of the year.
Wisconsin killed three critical Maverick power plays after Earl’s goal, as the Badger penalty-killing unit looked sharp and allowed few chances.
After the spate of penalties, Bruckler showed his appreciation to his team by robbing Dubel’s chance. Dubel, a defenseman, snuck into the slot and one-timed a pass. Bruckler smothered the chance and allowed no rebound.
“Your goaltender has to be your best penalty killer because the bottom line lies with him because they have an extra man … Between Bernd and the people in front of him, they did a pretty good job,” Wisconsin coach Mike Eaves said.
Unlike MSU, the Badgers took advantage of the chances they got and scored another power play goal at 12:37 of the second.
After a scramble in the crease, freshman sensation Joe Pavelski found the puck on the left side and put it past a sprawled Volp to make the score 3-1 in Wisconsin’s favor.
In the third, the Mavericks made the game interesting by scoring at 8:02. Kurtis Kisio finished serving a two-minute charging penalty by leaving the penalty box, grabbing the puck, and leading a charge up ice. The sophomore found David Backes on the right side.
Backes’ shot was stopped by Bruckler, but Dubel came in and scoped up the rebound before putting it top shelf. The goal, which came at 8:02, prompted Wisconsin to use its timeout and led to a brief comeback chance for MSU.
“It was a team effort, but it was a struggle,” Burish said.
Wisconsin held strong and didn’t allow the Mavericks to pull off another comeback.
“We said before the game that it was the biggest game of the year for us,” Bruckler said. “Going into this, we knew it was important for us not to slip and get the spiral going the wrong direction, to go into the break felling good about ourselves, have a good bus ride home, and continue the good things we’ve done.”
“I think it was a night where their goaltender just did a great job and made all of the key saves,” MSU coach Troy Jutting said. “I give our kids credit, I think we battled hard.”
For the second night in a row, MSU started the scoring. Off a Wisconsin faceoff win in the UW zone, Maverick forward Rob Rankin through a hit along the left boards to free up the puck for defenseman Steve Wagner.
Wagner, a freshman, fired the puck from the blue line. Thompson deflected the shot in front of the net, and the puck dropped between Bruckler’s legs at 11:28 of the first.
The lead lasted less than six minutes, as UW’s Andrew Joudrey tallied his fourth goal of the season at 17:06. On the rush, Joudrey took a hard angle backhand shot from the right side that went over Volp’s shoulder and into the left corner of the net.
“Obviously I’m disappointed in the loss, but I think it was a great weekend of college hockey,” Jutting said.
The Mavericks take to the road next week with their final WCHA series of the year, as they play Colorado College. Wisconsin is idle until New Year’s Eve.