MANKATO, Minn. — Wisconsin hasn’t collapsed, but the walls are definitely shaking.
After posting a quick 3-0 lead against Minnesota State, the No. 2 Badgers watched MSU score six straight goals to defeat No. 2 UW 6-4 Friday night.
“Obviously to get down 3-0 against a team the caliber of Wisconsin is not a good thing,” Maverick coach Troy Jutting said. “But I’m very pleased with the character of the kids and the effort to battle their way back into the game the way they did.”
Junior David Backes led the charge for the Mavericks (15-16-4, 11-13-3 WCHA). After going 11 games without a goal, Backes scored twice and added two assists. Freshman Mike Zacharias stopped 33 shots as MSU posted its third straight win over a ranked opponent.
Wisconsin (21-8-3, 15-7-3 WCHA), which at one point seemed to have an insurmountable lead in the WCHA, is struggling just to hang on to second place in the conference.
“I stood outside their locker room. They’re saying all the right things, they’re trying to do all the right things. It’s just not happening right now,” UW coach Mike Eaves said of his players.
The Badgers, who outshot MSU 37-22, have just three wins in their last 10 games.
The first period featured complete Badger dominance as Wisconsin scored three goals to start the game. But a flurry of Maverick pressure in the last 10.2 seconds of the period sent MSU down just one goal heading into intermission.
The Badgers got things going early on a power play. From the left circle, Joe Pavelski sent a pass that found Robbie Earl on the back door. From the right side, Earl one-timed the pass for his 16th tally of the year.
Just 4:12 later, Jack Skille gave Wisconsin a 2-0 lead. Off a Ryan Carter turnover at center ice, Skille fired from the right side to beat Zacharias high over the goalie’s left shoulder.
At 12:49, the Badgers went up by three. Off a face off, Jake Dowell fired on net. Zacharias stopped the initial shot, but the rebound bounced high into the air. Senior Nick Licari waited until the puck dropped below the crossbar before batting it out of midair and into the net.
Minnesota State could generate no offense until it received a power play in the final minute.
On the ensuing face off, Travis Morin won the puck back to Backes. Backes side-stepped a diving Pavelski and fired a low wrist shot that beat UW’s Brian Elliott with 10.2 seconds left in the period.
The goal was Backes’ first in twelve games, the longest goal-scoring drought for the Maverick captain.
“It’s good to get that over with in the first period,” Backes said. “It kind of let me play care-free for the rest of the game.”
“That’s the best game he’s had in a long time,” Jutting said of Backes.
Exactly 9 seconds later, with 1.2 seconds left in the period, Joel Hanson crashed the net as Jeff Marler put the puck on goal, and Hanson scored to make it a 3-2 score.
“The only option Jeff had with the time remaining was to throw on the net,” Jutting said. “Fortunately Joel was going hard to the net and was able to get his stick on it.”
“It was a huge swing,” Backes said. “It was almost like we needed some Prozac there with 15 seconds left, and we got our Prozac in the form of two quick goals. It was a momentum swinger for us, and it kind of lifted the spirits of guys that were down.”
It was evident the goal changed the confidence of MSU, as the Mavericks played the rest of the game much sharper.
“It showed them that weren’t going to back down, that they’re in for sixty minutes of hockey tonight,” defenseman Brian Kilburg said.
The first period set the stage for a wild, wide-open hockey game.
The Mavericks tied the game at 10:09 of the middle stanza with a shorthanded goal. Earl gave the puck away at the MSU blueline, and Rob Rankin had a clean breakaway against Elliott. The senior went low to post MSU’s third goal on only its eighth shot.
“That’s what Robbie Rankin does for a team, and that’s why he’s a huge asset for us,” Backes said.
MSU took the lead at 16:43. Backes led a rush up ice, peeled around in the right circle, and dropped a backhand pass into the slot. Kilburg, who was following up the play, fired a low shot to beat Elliott. The freshman’s first collegiate goal was only the ninth Maverick shot in the game.
At the end of the period, penalties to Pavelski and Kyle Klubertanz gave MSU a five-on-three for 1:43. It took just 50 seconds of that time for the Mavericks to build a 5-3 lead.
Carter found Backes with a cross-ice pass. From the left circle, the junior ripped a shot through traffic to beat the junior Badger netminder for the second time in the game.
“He’s our captain, our leader,” Kilburg said.
In the third, the Mavericks scored their sixth straight tally to take a commanding 6-3 lead. Right after Carter came out of the penalty box, the sophomore carried the puck down on a two-on-one rush with Kyle Peto. Carter kept the puck himself and sniped the puck over Elliott at 6:08 for his 18th of the season.
UW’s Ross Carlson added a power-play goal at 10:50 of the third to close within two, but Zacharias and the Mavericks stoned Wisconsin the rest of the way despite heavy Badger pressure.
The win was also big for the Mavericks because of their shortened bench. Regulars Brock Becker, Austin Sutter, and Christian Toll were not in the lineup. Jutting called it a “coach’s decision.” That left MSU dressing converted forward Lucas Fransen, defenseman Chad Brownlee, and mending forward Mick Berge on a fourth line that was sparsely used as the game wore on.
The teams will wrap up the series tomorrow night at 7:05 p.m. CT. It will be Senior Night for MSU and the last game of the season at the Midwest Wireless Civic Center, as a North Dakota win mathematically eliminated MSU from home ice in the WCHA playoffs.