MADISON, Wis. — Same situation … different outcome.
One year ago, Wisconsin had just lost the decisive third game in its WCHA first-round playoff series with Alaska-Anchorage and failed to make the Final Five. This time around, the Badgers would not be denied.
Thanks to two rebound goals in the second period, Wisconsin edged the Seawolves 2-1, earning their first trip to the Final Five under third-year head coach Mike Eaves.
“It was a lot tougher to get there than I think we all thought it would be,” junior captain Adam Burish said. “It’s a relieving feeling and we’re all looking forward to being there.”
“I couldn’t be more proud of our hockey club. We lost to a very good hockey team, but all three games were extremely close,” Anchorage coach John Hill said. “It’s tough to leave tomorrow morning, feeling the way we do.”
After Alaska-Anchorage freshman goaltender Nathan Lawson made 44 saves to earn a 2-1 victory Saturday night, the Badgers knew they were not going to win by trying to score fancy goals.
Instead, they were going to have to crash the net and hammer home rebounds. They manufactured two such goals in the second period Sunday and that wound up being the difference.
Thanks to a power-play goal from Chad Anderson in the first period, Anchorage held the 1-0 lead heading into the second. But the Badgers came out fired up, and tied the game at the 7:13 mark with yet another goal from freshman Joe Pavelski.
Joe Piskula fired the initial shot at Lawson, but was turned away. Pavelski was ready in the slot for the rebound. After Lawson denied him on a backhand shot, Pavelski got his own rebound and this time used a forehand to pocket the puck in the corner of the net.
For Pavelski, the Badgers’ leading scorer, it was his fourth goal and sixth point of the weekend.
Four minutes later, Burish gave the Badgers the lead with a rebound goal of his own.
Nick Licari put a shot on net that Lawson saved, but Burish came streaking in from Lawson’s right side. The puck deflected off Burish’s leg and into the net before he ran into the netminder.
Referee Derek Shepherd quickly signaled the goal, even though it was unclear whether Burish had perhaps kicked the puck in.
“It hit me in the thigh,” Burish said. “I saw it come up into my thigh area and I just tried to go with it … I played soccer too, growing up.”
The goal stood and turned out to be the game-winner as the Badgers staved off a strong Seawolf offensive attack in the third period. Anchorage actually outshot the Badgers 16-14 in the final period, the only time the Seawolves accomplished that in a period all series, but could not find a way to score.
“It was a big adjustment we made. At the start of the game, what we started to figure out is [that we needed to] back up a little bit,” Burish said. “That was the adjustment we made and that was the reason we were able to collect some pucks and put them home.”
“There’s a happy group of young men in there. This has been really hard for us,” Eaves said. “When you do something this hard there’s a great measure of success and happiness that goes with that.”
The stage was set for Sunday’s big game not only in last night’s game, but also before the game on Sunday. Following a second-period skirmish, Anchorage forward Shea Hamilton was disqualified, meaning he would have to sit out Sunday’s contest.
After reviewing the tape of the incident, the WCHA also suspended Jake Dowell from Sunday’s game after he threw an opponent’s helmet at the end of the fight.
Furthermore, while referee Don Adam had officiated the first two games of the series, but Shepherd took his spot for Sunday’s game.
Hill did not hide the fact that he was not particularly pleased with the officiating.
“I did not ask for a change [in referees]. I can tell you exactly what happened,” Hill said. “I called our director of officials, Greg Shepherd — and [former Wisconsin coach] Jeff Sauer told me on Friday that he was here to advise our officials — so I called Greg and said ‘Greg, can you do me a favor, will you make sure that Jeff sees me after the game [Saturday] so I can ask him if I’m losing my mind or if I think some things have gone on that were questionable.’ I wouldn’t ask for a change in officials.”
“I have to be real careful about that and I would direct all your questions to the league office about that,” Eaves said.
Sunday’s game went without any major incidents as far as fighting, although Hill questioned Burish’s goal and a second-period incident when Shepherd blew his whistle for a Seawolf in the crease just before they scored an apparent goal which was immediately waved off.
“I guess the difference in the game is kicking-motion second goal allowed, man-in-the-crease goal disallowed,” Hill said. “It’s very frustrating. There’s a lot of things that happened all week that are very frustrating that we had no control over.”
Nonetheless, the Badgers skated away with the win.
Bruckler made 27 saves in his return to his post between the pipes. He was pulled in the third period Friday for the first time in his career.
At the other end, Lawson finished an impressive weekend in net for Anchorage. The freshman finished the weekend with 126 saves in more than 170 minutes worth of action while allowing just six goals.
“Our goalies have been outstanding. Nathan had to play, for all intents and purposes, nine periods of hockey,” Hill said. “The good thing is he’s a freshman.”
Anchorage finished its season 12-19-6.
For the Badgers, their next test comes against North Dakota Thursday in St. Paul, Minn.
But equally important in the outcome was Wisconsin’s place in the PairWise Rankings. Its win Saturday made Anchorage a “Team Under Consideration,” which moved the Badgers up in the PairWise. But the loss Sunday moves Anchorage back out of the PairWise and puts Wisconsin back on the bubble.
“It’s one of those things that I don’t have any control of that. The best thing that we can do is to win [Sunday] night’s game,” Eaves said.