MADISON, Wis. — Maybe it was just the fact that he needed to shake off a little rust or perhaps a visit from family and a new haircut did the trick. But for whatever reason, Wisconsin junior goalie Brian Elliott looks to be back in business.
The goaltender was winless in his first three starts between the pipes after missing more than a month’s worth of action due to injury. But he turned things around this weekend, allowing his lone goal of the weekend against St. Cloud in a 3-1 victory Saturday night.
One night after going relatively untested in a 1-0 shutout, the standout who led the nation in all goaltending statistics through much of the first half of the season was tested time and time again, but came up big for the Badgers.
“He’s getting pretty close to being in the state he needs to be in.” Wisconsin head coach Mike Eaves said. “Whenever you’re going to go into a playoff, the success you’re going to have starts right between the pipes.”
“I hate letting in goals,” Elliott said. “When it comes down to it, you want to play your position the best that you can. I just wanted to be solid back there, especially for these guys on senior weekend.”
The victory gave UW a share of second place in the WCHA to end the regular season, though by tie-breaker the Badgers will host eight-seed Michigan Tech next weekend at the Kohl Center-which was sold out both nights of this series.
St. Cloud, which showed promise in the loss, will travel to Grand Forks to try and oust fifth-seeded North Dakota.
“We were good tonight-that was one of our better efforts in a while. We’ll end our season with that,” St. Cloud head coach Bob Motzko said. “I’m proud of our hockey team.”
For Motzko, it was three errors by his team which led to all three Badger goals, while his team could not capitalize on UW’s mistakes.
Eaves started the five members of his senior class, but it didn’t take long for the Badgers to get into the swing of things with their regular lines. In fact, it took them less than one minute to get on the scoreboard.
Sophomore Joe Pavelski, UW’s leading scorer, added another point to his total with his 18th goal of the year after the Huskies failed to clear the zone.
Instead, Pavelski skated in from the left circle, was met by goalie Bobby Goepfert and a defenseman who stopped the puck initially, but plugged away at his own rebound, eventually knocking it by the netminder just 51 seconds into the game.
“You never know what you’re going to get on a senior night,” Eaves said. “That’s the best start we could’ve hoped for.”
It was the fifth time this season that the Badgers scored a goal in the first minute of the game and the 10th time they’ve got on the board with less than four minutes elapsed from the clock.
However, after that, the first period was almost all Huskies. They outshot the Badgers, 15-6, in the opening 20 minutes. More notably, UW only attempted 13 shots over that amount of time.
Despite holding a 1-0 advantage on the scoreboard at the end of the frame, Wisconsin looked as if it was on its heels.
The story of the second period sounded very much the same as the first. Again it was the Huskies outshooting the Badgers, but the lone goal of the period came from Wisconsin, and again came within the first minute of play.
In fact, the goal came off the faceoff that opened the period. Tom Gilbert captured the puck and skated just past center ice before dumping it into the zone.
But instead of throwing it into the corner, he put it on net, resulting in a routine play that a goaltender probably has to make at least three times a game. But instead of closing off the goal and covering the shot, the puck somehow slid under Goepfert’s right leg and into the corner of the net.
“It must have been because it was senior night that the puck went in for me. I was actually trying to pass it,” Gilbert said. “I didn’t even know it went in until the crowd was cheering, so it was a surprise to me.”
“We all see those about what, once a year? Once every five years?,” Motzko said. “He was playing for icing and it caught him.”
The goal doubled Wisconsin’s lead just 12 seconds into the second frame.
In the third period, it was the Huskies jumping out with a power-play goal in the opening minute to cut the deficit to 2-1. But another failure to clear the zone minutes later cost them dearly.
The Badgers posted a goal on the man-advantage themselves at 2:40 of the third, quelling any SCSU momentum and skating away with a victory.
While the early-period goals were big for the Badgers, Eaves pointed to MacMurchy’s third-period goal as the difference maker.
“Probably the biggest goal was the response on the power play after we got scored on,” Eaves said. “That gave us a little strength there going down the backstretch.”
When all was said and done, St. Cloud State ousthot Wisconsin, 38-26, and had at least twice as many good scoring chances as it had the night before. But Elliott was there to stop all but one of them.
While there were doubts lingering after Friday night’s shutout by the junior netminder, he answered them, giving his team some much-needed momentum heading into the postseason.
“We had our share of chances tonight. We had a couple odd-man rushes and we had great shots, we were right in front of him a few times,” Motzko said. “I take it he has his confidence again going into the playoffs. Whatever people were writing about him, you can get a different pen out now.”