MADISON, Wis. — Its amazing how much can change for a team in a two week span.
Just a couple of weekends ago, the Wisconsin Badgers traveled to Mankato to take on the Minnesota State Mavericks. They left the Alltel Center with just one point, however, after giving up third period leads both nights.
But at home in Madison for the first round of the WCHA playoffs, the Badgers disposed of the Mavericks in convincing fashion, winning 7-1 while outshooting MNSU 66-27 on the night.
It wasnt until the second period that the scoring floodgates opened for Wisconsin.
After a scoreless first, freshman forward Derek Stepan put the Badgers on the board just 1:38 into the second on the power play. Stepans shot from the left faceoff circle found its way through screens set up by UWs Tom Gorowsky and Blake Geoffrion to beat Mavericks goalie Mike Zacharias.
The game was in limbo at that time, UW head coach Mike Eaves said. I think both teams in the first period were kind of feeling their way around a little bit, trying to get their game going. In the second period, we were much better in the way we were moving and supporting each other. The goal was a direct result of doing those kind of things.
Ben Grotting made it a 2-0 Badger lead with his third goal in as many games. Grotting took a pass from Craig Johnson at the right faceoff circle and caught Zacharias out of position.
(Grotting) thinks the game well, Eaves said. Hes in the right place at the right time and doing good things.
Its definitely pretty impressive, Gorowsky said of Grottings goal scoring streak. Im hoping he keeps it up. Hes been playing great.
Geoffrion pushed the lead to 3-0 in favor of Wisconsin early in the third period on what proved to be one of the biggest goals of the evening. Geoffrions shot rattled off all three posts and was not initially ruled a goal. But officials took another look at the play and determined the puck just crept past the goal line.
Even Geoffrion didnt know if he had scored.
I honestly didnt know if it went in, Geoffrion said. I just kind of played it off like it did and hope theyd call it a goal. But I was happy that it went in. It was good for our momentum.
The momentum Geoffrions goal gave Wisconsin continued for the remainder of the third period. Mavericks head coach Troy Jutting pulled Zacharias after the third Badger goal, giving way to little-used reserve Dan Tormey.
Tormey didnt fare any better. On this night, there seemed to be nothing Minnesota State could do to stop Wisconsin.
They played very well, Jutting said of the Badgers. We just got beat by a better hockey team tonight.
On the other end of the rink, UW senior netminder Shane Connelly made 26 saves on 27 Maverick shots to pick up the win. Connelly made a few nifty glove saves–including one in which he robbed MNSUs Kael Mouillierat–to preserve what was then a thin Badger lead.
When it was 2-0, he made a couple of huge saves that allowed the score to stay at 2-0 and not allow them to get any energy, Eaves said. Shane definitely gave us the timely saves tonight.
The only goal Connelly let in came on a fluky shot by Minnesota States Jason Wiley at 18:10 in the third. After UWs Jake Gardiner and Geoffrion added third period goals to make it a 5-0 Wisconsin lead, Wiley fired a shot from the extended goal line that snuck its way between Connellys pads and into the back of the net.
The Badgers were quick to respond, however, and werent about to let up on the gas late in the game.
Less than a minute after Harrison got the Mavericks on the board, Badger forward John Mitchell caused a turnover in the neutral zone and took it into the MNSU end on a wide-open breakaway. Mitchell beat Tormey for his team-leading 15th goal of the season.
Just 32 seconds later and under a minute to play in the game, UW defenseman Cody Goloubef scored the games final goal on a rifle from the right point.
Wisconsin finished with 24 shots in the third period. Two weekends ago in a 4-3 overtime loss to the Mavericks, they had just four in the final frame.
That was one of the things we felt we needed to do, Eaves said. If you want to be a championship-caliber team, thats one of the things you have to do is keep your foot on the gas pedal.
With the win, the Badgers are just one game away from a trip to the Final Five in St. Paul next weekend.
For a team needing to make it deep into the conference tournament to have a chance of making the NCAA playoffs, Saturdays game is a big one.
Its kind of a live or die series for us, Gorowsky said. We need to get past this series and get to St. Paul to stay alive. We knew we could play well against these guys if we played physical and compete really hard. I thought we did that.