MADISON, Wis. — The second-ranked Badgers snagged an early lead again, scoring twice in the opening period, and held on late to defeat Minnesota State, 2-1, in front of 12,743 fans at the Kohl Center.
With two important veterans out of the Wisconsin lineup, sophomore center Joe Pavelski stepped up in a big way, scoring both Badger goals despite playing without his two normal linemates.
Senior captain Adam Burish was not eligible to play due to a disqualification penalty in Wisconsin’s victory over Colorado College last Saturday and junior Robbie Earl was held out because he was late to practice Saturday morning, leaving Pavelski to center a brand new line.
“It was really different after playing all of last year with the same two guys,” Pavelski said. “But you’ve just got to go with it.”
“We needed him to play the way he did tonight. It was a big, big boost to us,” Wisconsin head coach Mike Eaves said. “He has that ability to rise to occasions. I think that what he did tonight was take it to another level.”
It wasn’t just a change for Pavelski though, as the team was able to pull out a victory with four completely different lines.
“I think that speaks to our depth. We had people that jumped in our lineup,” Eaves said. “[Burish and Earl] are two dynamic people, but we were still able to get the job done.”
While he admitted it felt a little different, Pavelski played through it and got the job done.
His first goal came midway through the first period on the only power play of the first 20 minutes. Senior defenseman Tom Gilbert was pressured and forced to make a nifty, no-look pass that went straight to Pavelski in the left circle.
Pavelski lined up and fired a blazing wrister top-shelf over the stick of Minnesota State freshman goalie Dan Tormey, and Wisconsin took a 1-0 lead at 10:45 of the period.
He got his second of the night and team-leading eighth goal with less than two minutes to go in the opening stanza. Pavelski looked to make a pass to the slot from the left side of the goal. Instead, the puck deflected off Minnesota State blue liner Steve Wagner’s shin pad and over the shoulder of the unsuspecting Tormey.
His odd goal turned out to be the game winner and difference maker in a game in which the Mavericks used a high energy and physical presence to hang with the league-leading Badgers.
“Well, they got one off our shinpad [in] a 2-1 hockey game,” Minnesota State head coach Troy Jutting said when asked what the difference was. “Good players get luck, he’s an excellent hockey player.”
Pavelski had his chances to notch a hat trick, finishing the night with 10 shots on goal, nearly a third of the Badgers’ total.
Jutting did not feel like his team came out with the highest intensity in the opening period, but it seemed to pick up as the game wore on, and Minnesota State stymied Wisconsin the rest of the way.
“I didn’t think we played very well in the first period,” Jutting said. “After that, we played pretty good hockey.”
“[Minnesota State plays] very hard,” Wisconsin winger Nick Licari said. “When we play them it’s key for us to match their hard. That’s one thing they do very well-they show up every night. They’re a tough team to play against.”
After a scoreless second period, the Mavericks cut their deficit in half midway through the third. Playing four-on-four, Ryan Carter’s shot was saved by Wisconsin netminder Brian Elliott, but the rebound went right to Minnesota State sophomore Joel Hanson who buried the rebound to make it 2-1.
The Mavericks kept up the aggressive pace in the period, outshooting the Badgers 13-11, but Elliott stood tall to preserve the victory.
“It was a tough game, they’re a team that likes to throw the puck at the net, and you’ve got to be ready for that,” Elliott said. “I was seeing the puck really well.”
Hanson’s goal at 11:32 of the third snapped a 160-minute stretch in which Elliott had gone without surrendering a goal. Though he was not able to post the shutout, Eaves thought the 31-save effort might have been his best to-date.
“There were a lot of chances that were difficult,” Eaves said.
Tormey continued his run of solid efforts with 31 saves of his own and even got on the score sheet with an assist on Minnesota State’s lone goal, though he ended up stuck with the loss.
With its lineup presumably back intact Sunday night, Wisconsin will look to maintain its lead in the WCHA and extend its unbeaten streak to 10 games. Tormey and the Mavericks will bring their energy back with a chance to split with one of the nation’s hottest teams.