MADISON, Wis. — One night after surrendering three goals in the first period, Michigan Tech freshman goalie Michael-Lee Teslak returned to his post and stopped all but one of the 30 UW shots fired his way.
Unfortunately for him, the junior at the other end of the ice did him one better. Brian Elliott stopped all 19 Husky shots on goal to earn his second shutout in as many weekends and his fifth of the season, a new UW single-season record.
Sophomore Joe Pavelski scored the game’s only goal, a nifty power-play tally early in the second frame, to help the Badgers punch their ticket to the WCHA Final Five next weekend in St. Paul.
“They stepped up their game in a couple of fashions, particularly in the neutral zone,” UW head coach Mike Eaves said. “They didn’t give us as much time … so we couldn’t establish our offense. It was exactly the kind of game we thought it would be.”
The Huskies, desperate to extend their season, gave it all they had, but it was not enough on this night.
“A bounce here or there … or if we could have got a goal and got a little bit of momentum it could have been a different outcome,” Tech head coach Jamie Russell said.
Pavelski was everywhere on special teams.
Midway through the first, he helped energize his team and the home crowd of 13,188 fans with a crafty 30 seconds of forecheck action.
The Badgers took that momentum into a power play moments later, creating multiple chances — Jack Skille saw his shot clang off the pipe and Teslak came up big to thwart a point-blank chance by Pavelski.
“When your top skill guys lead the charge physically that sets the example for everybody,” UW captain Adam Burish said. “You’ve got a guy like Joe going in there and mixing it up and banging, it gets everybody all jacked up. It sets the tone.”
But neither the Badgers nor the Huskies could find the back of the net in the opening 20 minutes.
Wisconsin did a good job on defense and the few shots that Elliott saw, he had plenty of time to react to.
“They’re a tough team to get offense against,” Russell said. “They don’t give an awful lot of Grade A chances up and when they do, Elliott answers the bell.”
It is fair to say that Elliott has almost fully shaken off the rust from a knee injury that cost him eight games. He has given up just two goals in his last four outings.
“I would have to say he’s pretty close [to where he was before the injury] because he’s handled both the mental and physical parts and he’s played back-to-back games in the last two weekends,” Eaves said.
Less than seven minutes into the second frame, it was UW’s leading scorer who broke the scoreless stalemate with a power-play goal.
Pavelski’s teammates cycled the puck to him down low in the left circle, and with a clear path to the net, he skated in. Though he could have attempted a pass to a wide-open Ryan MacMurchy in the slot, he stuck with his first instinct.
Teslak took away the near side as defenseman John Scott tried to get back, but a diving Pavelski — now nearly parallel to the ice — pushed the puck to the far side, extended his stick and hooked it in for what turned out to be the game-winning goal.
“The goalie bit on that first move and [I just] had to make sure I got the puck,” Pavelski said. “It was one of those things that I happened so fast and … I was just going to go for it.”
The play was a direct byproduct of some heady examination of film on Tech, as UW knew it had the chance to open up that space in front of the net.
“That’s one of the benefits of watching video,” Eaves said. “We thought we saw something … and there was no hesitation on Joe’s part to grab the puck and go to the net. It was a big-time goal-scorer’s goal.”
The Badgers continued to produce chances, dominating much of the second frame. They outshot the Huskies 14-5, but Teslak made another nice save on a Kyle Klubertanz one-timer and Tom Gilbert’s power-play shot again only drew metal as Tech kept it close going into the final 20 minutes.
“It was a very tough decision [to start Teslak],” Russell said. “[Teslak] has shown this year that when he has struggled, he’s really bounced back. I thought he definitely gave us a chance to win tonight.”
The Huskies refused to give up in a quiet third period. However, any chance that they might have had to pull Teslak for an extra man late in the game was taken away when Lars Helminen incurred a five-minute major with 1:09 remaining.
The loss ended Tech’s season, sending them home with a 7-25-6 overall record and forcing them to wait another year to try and break their eight-year skid without a playoff win.
The Badgers, on the other hand, moved to 25-9-3 on the year and gained a head of steam in the process. They are now riding a four-game winning streak after earning their first WCHA first-round playoff sweep under Eaves.
Wisconsin will learn who it will face at the Final Five Sunday after Denver avoided a home sweep against Minnesota-Duluth Friday night in a game which included a late controversial call that took a Bulldog goal off the scoreboard.
Regardless of who they will take on, the Badgers feel they are poised to make a run.
“The way we’re feeling and the confidence we have in each other, we know we can win every night and every game,” Elliott said. “Now it’s just one game at a time, one team at a time.”