GRAND FORKS, N.D. — Two streaks ended, two streaks continued and they all proved to be the difference in Wisconsin’s 4-2 victory over North Dakota at Ralph Engelstad Arena.
The Fighting Sioux hadn’t been scored upon in the first period all season long, but gave up two goals to the Badgers, who won in Grand Forks for the first time in six attempts dating back to October 2001.
“It just shows that the team that scores first often wins the game,” said Wisconsin coach Mike Eaves. “The percentages are in your favor, especially when you’re on the road. It takes the crowd out of it a little bit. So having a good start was imperative tonight.”
Wisconsin junior goalie Brian Elliott improved his unbeaten streak to 7-0-1 and has yet to give up more than two goals in the 11 games he’s started for the Badgers. He stopped 28 of 30 shots he faced and was instrumental in killing a crucial five-minute UND power play in the second period.
“You can win a lot of games if you only let it two goals,” Elliott said. “So if I can keep that up for the rest of the year, I’d be happy with it, for sure.”
Wisconsin’s first goal came at 3:39 when fourth-line wing Matthew Ford got behind UND’s defense and tipped Nick Licari’s cross-ice pass past Sioux goalie Jordan Parise. Coming out of a moving scrum with the puck tangled in players’ skates, Badgers freshman forward Jack Skille found himself alone in front of Parise and put the Badgers up 2-0 with a power play goal at 17:46.
The Sioux answered with a power play goal of their own. With 43 seconds left in the period, sophomore defenseman Kyle Radke made it a 2-1 game when he fired in Drew Stafford’s centering pass.
Although the Sioux outshot the Badgers 10-5 in the second period, Wisconsin extended its lead to 3-1 when junior forward Robbie Earl deflected Adam Burish’s centering pass past Parise at the 8:44 mark for the game winner.
UND was given the opportunity to get back in the game when Wisconsin junior defenseman Matt Olinger was called for checking Sioux freshman center T.J. Oshie from behind. But Elliott came up with some big saves to preserve Wisconsin’s two-goal lead at the end of the period.
“The one thing you don’t teach goalies is size,” Eaves said. “There were a couple of tip-ins that (the Sioux) had that just hit him, and that’s because of his size.”
Wisconsin defenseman Tom Gilbert said Elliott’s play in the nets is an important factor in the team’s success.
“He makes big saves, he scrambles well, he holds the puck when he needs to and he’s just playing phenomenal right now,” he said.
At 8:50 of the third period, sophomore center Joe Pavelski gave Wisconsin a commanding 4-1 lead when he deflected Earl’s centering pass by a sprawling Parise. The listless Sioux fans came to life when freshman forward Ryan Duncan scored his third goal of the season at 10:58, firing a wrist shot from the right circle past a screened Elliott.
Just when it seemed the Sioux had momentum and the crowd of 10,972 back into the game, UND senior assistant captain Mike Prpich was assessed a five-minute major penalty for high-sticking. A string of penalties on the Sioux down the stretch foiled their attempts to cut into Wisconsin’s 4-2 lead and didn’t sit well with UND coach Dave Hakstol.
“We’re in the game, we have pretty good momentum and we were continually creating opportunities,” he said. “It’s not disappointing. It’s just unacceptable.”
UND outshot Wisconsin 30-24 and was 1-4 on the power play while the Badgers were 1-8. Parise ended the game with 20 saves on 24 shots.
The WCHA-leading Badgers improved their record to 5-1-1 and 4-0-1 in league play. The Sioux fell to 5-3-1 overall and 1-2-0 in the WCHA. The two teams will meet at 7:05 p.m. Saturday in Engelstad Arena for the second game of the series.