DULUTH, Minn. — Minnesota-Duluth learned its playoff fate Friday night, but wasn’t terribly disappointed with having to go on the road for the WCHA’s first round. UMD’s 2-2 overtime tie with No. 7-ranked Wisconsin before 5,267 at the DECC means the Bulldogs will finish sixth in the league and travel to fifth-place North Dakota next Friday for a best-of-3 series.
Yet the tie continued UMD’s improved play of the past six weeks, going 6-4-2, including 3-0-1 the past four games. The Bulldogs (14-15-6, 10-13-4 WCHA) rallied from two one-goal deficits to gain the league point, helped by goalie Isaac Reichmuth’s 36 saves. Wisconsin led in shots 38-29.
“Right now we’re focused on getting ready for the playoffs, and in that sense it was a good game for us,” said Reichmuth.
Wisconsin (21-10-4, 16-8-3) is 1-4-3 the last eight games and has averaged 2.5 goals a game in that stretch. The Badgers may need to win tonight’s rematch to remain third in the WCHA. They are two points ahead of Minnesota. Friday’s Wisconsin highlight was two power-play goals after going 4-of-52 the previous 10 games.
“We created 38 shots on goal and that’s more shots than we’ve had in a long time,” said Wisconsin coach Mike Eaves. “We have to turn our offensive ship around, but you don’t do that in one felled swoop. I’d say the ship is halfway turned.”
Wisconsin, 11-1-1 the past 13 games in Duluth, connected on two of its first three power plays. The first was with a 5-on-3 advantage as center Jake McDowell converted a Ross Carlson pass at the right edge of the crease 6:38 into the game.
Freshman winger Blair LeFebvre countered with a UMD power-play goal less than three minutes later. He came onto the ice on a line change, headed down the slot in the offensive zone and was the beneficiary of an errant McDowell pass from the left boards. The puck was put on LeFebvre’s stick, he knocked it flat and headed in on All-American goalie Bernd Bruckler for his second collegiate goal.
“It was like a gift to see the puck coming right at you while you’re all alone,” said LeFebvre.
The Badgers used their same power-play unit to regain the lead with 5:54 left in the first period. Defenseman Kyle Klubertanz scored from high in the slot as his shot got by a screened Reichmuth. Carlson gained his second assist on the play in his first game at the DECC since playing for Duluth East.
The second period belonged to Wisconsin, which outshot UMD 19-9, yet the Bulldogs got the only goal to even the game at 2 and even had a few other chances. After Tyler Brosz and Steve Czech hit goal pipes in the first 90 seconds for the Bulldogs, freshman defenseman Travis Gawryletz unleashed an attempt from high in the slot. The puck went through at least one pair of legs before going through Bruckler’s at 4:35 for Gawryletz’s third collegiate goal. T.J. Caig’s assist on the play was his first point in 15 games.
“Our biggest concern against Wisconsin was playing good defense. It didn’t make a lot of difference that we were being outshot,” said UMD freshman defenseman Jay Rosehill. “We’ve outshot teams and sometimes it hasn’t done us a lot of good. The last two weeks we’ve been going for quality.”
Wisconsin really went on the attack after the Gawryletz goal, but was held at bay. And with less than seven minutes left in the period, Brosz was foiled on a breakaway and then another close-range attempt seconds later. Eaves called the stopped breakaway a turning point which gave the Badgers a point in the physical game.
The Bulldogs, playing without second-leading scorer Marco Peluso who was ill, were better in the third period, matching Wisconsin 7-7 in shots. UMD is 0-2-6 in overtimes this season.
“This was great preparation for us for the playoffs,” said UMD coach Scott Sandelin. “We’re obviously going on the road and we can build on the momentum we’ve built.”