MADISON, Wis. — In four Wisconsin postseason games a year ago, Robbie Earl, Joe Pavelski and Adam Burish were the only Badgers to score goals. Four different Badgers scored in UW’s first postseason game of 2006 Friday night.
The Earl-Pavelski-Burish line got on the board first and each of the other three UW lines followed suit en route to a 4-1 victory over Michigan Tech in the first game of a best-of-three WCHA playoff series.
“I think our team played with great balance tonight,” UW head coach Mike Eaves said. “We got production from all four lines. It was a balanced attack, a balanced game and very solid.”
“It’s always huge to win the first game,” senior A.J. Degenhardt said. “I think it was key for us to play three solid periods and finish off the game strong to go into tomorrow night with the momentum.”
Fourth-ranked Wisconsin jumped out to a quick 3-1 lead after the first 20 minutes as Michigan Tech freshman goalie Michael-Lee Teslak stumbled out of the gate and Husky turnovers did not help his cause.
“I think the difference in the hockey game was turnovers. Three of their goals were directly off turnovers in our own end,” MTU head coach Jamie Russell said. “That perfect tick-tick-tick play isn’t going to be there and you’ve got to be proud to make the ugly play.”
Earl gave UW an early lead, scoring just six minutes in. Joe Pavelski picked up a loose puck behind the net, circled around and found his awaiting linemate in the right circle.
Earl blasted a one-timer that got caught between the legs of Teslak, but the goalie did not close the door and the puck trickled in.
Tech tied the game a little more than two minutes later, but the Badgers quickly regained the lead as Teslak faltered again.
Nick Licari made a great effort to keep the puck in the zone, then handed the puck off to Degenhardt. The senior fired an odd-angled shot from the left side of the net off the back side of Teslak and in.
“If you’re fourth line scores a goal, you’re more than likely going to win the game,” Licari said.
Teslak’s luck did not get any better from there, as UW’s Jack Skille made it 3-1 on a Badger power play. Once again it was a one-time blast from the freshman’s stick that was nearly saved by Teslak, but instead it squirted through his legs again and seeped in with less than four minutes left in the period.
It was the only UW power-play goal on nine chances, but the Badgers produced a variety of quality chances and its play on special teams was important.
“They were our most positive factor,” Eaves said of his special teams. “They came off the ice and excited the crowd because they did create some production.”
Teslak played out the rest of the period, but fellow freshman Rob Nolan took his place between the pipes to start the second frame.
“I don’t think [Teslak] played his best game,” Russell said. “The three goals in the first period went through him and he looked like he was fighting it a little bit.”
Nolan had better luck in a tighter second period. He stopped each of the first 12 shots that he saw, but that luck ran out on the 13th Badger shot of the period, with less than 48 seconds remaining.
Jake Dowell skated the puck around behind the net and attempted a flailing wrap-around. The shot went wide, but sophomore Matthew Ford was ready and waiting to clean up, pocketing the puck in the empty back door.
Unfortunately for Nolan, he did not get any help from his offense the rest of the way as Elliott made 10 saves in the second and five in a scoreless third.
Elliott came up huge for UW in the second frame, thwarting MTU’s leading scorer Chris Conner on a shorthanded two-on-one rush minutes before staving off two power plays which included more than a minute of five-on-three action.
“I thought Elliott made some great saves on the five-on-three that really would have got us back into the game,” Russell said. “I think Elliott rose to the occasion on both of those.”
Elliott has now surrendered just two goals in his last three games, and gave his team some momentum with a few key saves midway through the second period with his team on a 3-on-5 disadvantage.
Tech’s ugly playoff streak continued. The Huskies have not won a postseason game since March 14th, 1998.
However, with their season on the line-and considering the recent history between the two teams-Eaves and the Badgers know a win will not be easy when they look to punch their Final Five ticket Saturday night.
“They have the tenacity to stay with a series,” Eaves said. “It’s going to be a tougher game tomorrow.”