MADISON, Wis. — When Anchorage freshman goalie Nathan Lawson got the start Friday, Jan. 14, in Madison, he faced a barrage of shots from Wisconsin, and the Badgers got the best of him. He made 31 saves in two periods before being pulled. The next night he came back to make 33 saves but still lost 3-2.
After he replaced junior John DeCaro just 4:30 into Friday night’s game, he made 45 saves despite losing 5-4. Saturday night, Lawson finally got what he deserved, a win against the No. 8 Badgers.
“We gave one away last night so tonight we wanted to come back, play hard and play together so we could stay alive and play on Sunday,” Lawson said.
This time he stopped 44 of the 45 shots that he saw, and two Seawolf goals were enough for a 2-1 victory, forcing a deciding third game of the series Sunday night.
“I do the same thing every game, just get in my routine,” Lawson said.
“We’re playing against a hot goaltender. I wish we could buy a goal,” Wisconsin coach Mike Eaves said. “We outshot them two to one, we probably outchanced them two to one. We can’t get the rebound and we can’t get the puck on him and as a result, we had trouble scoring tonight.”
Friday night’s contest was one full of mental mistakes. A mental mistake by a Badger freshman gave the Seawolves the early lead on Saturday.
The Badgers got by far the greater number of scoring chances over the opening 20 minutes, outshooting the Seawolves 17-7. But Lawson slammed the door shut and his teammates capitalized on a Badger error.
“When you have freshman, you get to know body language, and I could tell that he was really into this and he was up to the challenge,” Anchorage coach John Hill said.
At 9:52 of the period, with Wisconsin on a power play, UW freshman defenseman Kyle Klubertanz turned the puck over in the neutral zone. Anchorage junior Justin Johnson sprinted in with the puck and snapped it over Badger goalie Brian Elliott to give Anchorage the 1-0 lead.
The Badgers had chances to tie the game over the final 10 minutes but Lawson was there to thwart their efforts every time, just a sign of things to come over the final 40 minutes.
The Badgers put a chink in his armor, though, just 59 seconds into the second period as their top line struck again.
Sophomore Robbie Earl passed the puck from behind the net to Joe Pavelski, who was ready and waiting to pop the puck up over Lawson’s glove for the Badgers’ only goal of the night.
It was Pavelski’s third goal and fifth point of the weekend and Earl’s second assist and fourth point of the weekend.
The tie was broken at 9:35 of the period when the Seawolves snagged the lead for good.
Their power play had just ended when Shea Hamilton fired a wrister from above the left circle through traffic and past Elliott, who lost sight of the puck.
“Burish went down to block it and I lost it in his skates,” Elliott said. “It was a good shot and went right in the corner. I would like to have that one back, but I can’t really dwell on that one right now.”
Hamilton would be disqualified from the game less than three minutes later when a brawl erupted in the Badgers’ offensive zone. Badger forward Jake Dowell was called for charging the goalie, which instigated the fight. Towards the end of the skirmish, Dowell took Hamilton’s helmet and threw it.
“I would like to know what happened to the guy who took the facemask and took it to the corner,” Hill said. “That bothers me.”
Hamilton, however, was the only disqualification, while both teams combined for 24 minutes in penalties, setting the tone for a fierce third period. By rule, Hamilton, the left wing on Anchorage’s first line, cannot participate in Sunday’s game.
The Badgers continued to pelt Lawson with shots, forcing him to make 18 more saves in the second period as the Badgers held the shot advantage 36-15 through 40 minutes.
“You’ve gotta give him the credit,” Pavelski said. “We didn’t get the bounces, but we’re not doing what it takes to win. Once every guy on this team steps up and gives that much more we’re going to start scoring and winning games.”
They did not get as many shots on goal, only nine, in the third period. They did have their opportunities, though, but Lawson was not about to surrender.
“I think we played pretty well. The goaltending is the old equalizer,” Eaves said.
Lawson has now played more than 114 minutes over the past two nights, allowing four goals and making 89 saves. That is a lot for any goalie to take, let alone a freshman, but Lawson said after the game that he’ll be ready.
“He’s just been too good. The only thing that would change is if we get up in the morning and he tells me he’s extremely gassed,” Hill said.
The Badgers, with their backs against the wall, will have to find a way past him. For the second straight year, they will play a decisive third game with the Seawolves.
Considering the ever-fluctuating PairWise Rankings, the Badgers know what they have to do. Nothing is certain, and they know a loss Sunday could possibly end their season.
“Our backs are against the wall. These are the games every athlete wants to play in,” Pavelski said. “The season is on the line. You never know what can happen.”
Eaves said that he will decide whether to go with Elliott or senior Bernd Bruckler in net.
The Badgers will get their chance to avenge last year’s first-round loss to Anchorage Sunday night, while Anchorage looks to accomplish one of its goals set at the beginning of the season — to return to the Final Five.