MADISON, Wis. — It was a sound not often heard from a loyal home Wisconsin crowd.
The Badgers, evidently still suffering from the painful sting of Friday night’s overtime loss, were soundly booed as they meandered back to their locker room.
Then again, with the way Denver has owned the Badgers’ home ice, one has to wonder who really the home team in this series is.
No.8 Denver extended its Madison dominance, improving to 13-2-2 at the Kohl, by jumping on a deflated Badger team early, scoring three first period goals, and never releasing the foot from the gas pedal, crushing No.13 Wisconsin 5-0 in the process.
Completing the weekend sweep and having not lost in Madison since October 2004, Denver (19-9-4, 15-7-3 WCHA) will enjoy another weekend in first place while moving five points clear of Wisconsin (16-13-3, 13-9-2 WCHA), who dropped to fourth place in the conference race.
“It was one of those nights that if we tried to drink a glass of water, we would probably spill it all over our lap,” Badgers’ coach Mike Eaves said. “It was just a tough night.”
After Denver coach George Gwozdecky openly admitted Friday night that his team could play tenfold better, the Pioneers went three-for-eight against the nation’s second best penalty kill (90.2 percent) and a unit that had allowed only two power-play goals in its last eight games.
“We’re shooting the puck at the right times and we’re getting the puck to who is open,” said freshman Patrick Wiercioch, who scored Denver’s second power-play goal. “Their penalty killing is at 90 percent for a reason. We were just getting the big goals right now.”
The Pioneers shut out Wisconsin’s league-best power play, as the Badgers went 0-for-8 on the man advantage and, despite DU getting outshot for the second straight night, were carried by Marc Cheverie’s season high 45 saves, good enough for his third shutout of the season.
“They shot the puck a lot, but we played the game a lot better than the shots showed,” Cheverie said. “The big thing for us was we had such a poor start yesterday that the start was the focus today. We needed to focus right off the bat and that was the difference.”
Denver’s first goal was a microcosm of things to come for the Pioneers and the Badgers.
With Denver wrapping the puck around the boards, Connelly went behind his net to clear the puck. The puck skipped over his stick and bounced off his right skate to Denver forward Luke Salazar. Salazar could have walked the puck into the net, putting DU up 1-0 on the power-play goal at 8:06.
Denver extended its lead to 2-0 on a beautiful individual play by Rhett Rakhshani. The junior found an open lane in front of Connelly from behind the net, faked pass, spun around and flipped the puck above Connelly’s shoulder for his 14th of the year at 16:33.
“Unbelievable, I can’t summarize it any better than that,” Wiercioch said of Rakhshani’s goal. “When he’s on the ice, he does incredible things with the puck.”
Denver had a golden opportunity to pad its lead when Jesse Martin’s rocket from the left faceoff circle went off Connelly’s glove, only to be saved by the left post. For the second straight night, however, Connelly wasn’t so fortunate in the closing seconds of a period.
Forward Dustin Jackson sneaked through a Wisconsin double team at open ice, only to have Connelly stymie his breakaway shot attempt with his stick. With the rebound in mid air, Connelly tried to bat the puck to the corner with his stick, but ended up deflecting it to forward Anthony Maiani, who deflected the puck into the net with 11.9 seconds left.
That was the last shot Connelly faced, as he was pulled in favor of sophomore goalie Scott Gudmandson at the start of the second period.
“I didn’t give the team a chance to win from the get-go,” Connelly said.
Even when the Badgers overhauled their lines at the start of second, Wisconsin could generate no offense and although Gudmandson faired slightly better, he still couldn’t stop the bleeding.
After Wiercioch scored his 11th of the season on a power-play rifle from the right circle at 9:58 in the second, Maiani scored his second goal of the night on a rebound at 6:13 of the third, sending a majority of the Wisconsin faithful still in attendance clamoring for the exits.
“The first rule of thumb is that when you are in a hole, you stop digging, but we kept digging,” Eaves said. “It was a long night. We lost that really special edge and we could have kept that edge if we could have survived those last 14 seconds.”