MADISON, Wis. — If there was any question whether or not the Wisconsin Badgers could carry over the effort from Friday’s 7-1 victory, the answer was a resounding one.
A night after firing 66 shots on net, the Badgers continued to pepper goaltender Mike Zacharias and the Minnesota State Mavericks with 46 shots Saturday. Wisconsin secured a 4-2 win Saturday at the Kohl Center, as well as a spot in next weekend’s Final Five in St. Paul.
Despite the scoring disparity between the two games, Wisconsin coach Mike Eaves was more pleased after Saturday’s victory.
“The hardest game to win is to end somebody’s season or to finish off a series,” Eaves said. “The fashion in which we did that tonight, we were really solid in the third period.”
“I give them credit,” Mavericks’ coach Troy Jutting said. “I thought they played very well all weekend long.”
Wisconsin needed to be strong in the third period as they held onto a 3-1 lead, the always-dangerous two-goal lead the Badgers have seen slip away earlier this season.
Late in the second period, though, it was UW captain Blake Geoffrion giving his team the crucial goal at the 13:44 mark. Geoffrion quickly flipped a puck past an out-of-position Zacharias on a feed by Andy Bohmbach to give Wisconsin a 3-1 advantage.
Geoffrion didn’t get much on the puck, but it was all about the timing on the eventual game winner.
“You know what, that goal was all about was how quickly he released that puck,” Eaves said.
“I was just sitting there and wanted to get it out as quick as possible,” Geoffrion said. “I just knew he was down and scrambling. I was just right there in the slot and [Bohmbach] found me.”
Before that point, it was Wisconsin jumping on the board first for the second straight night. Sophomore Ryan McDonagh’s shot from the right point found its way through traffic and past Zacharias for the early Badger lead.
MNSU didn’t wait long to answer, however. Andrew Sackrison took a centering pass from Brian Kilburg, who backhanded the puck from behind the net and found Sackrison in the slot on a no-look pass. The goal tied things up at 1-1 midway through the first and gave the Mavericks a bit of confidence, something they seemed to lack prior to that point.
“The first 12 minutes, we were exactly where we wanted to be,” Eaves said. “I think they got a little heartbeat when they scored that first goal of theirs. It really gave them a surge of energy. It was about us being able to handle that.”
Wisconsin had no problem handing the re-energized Mavericks. Bohmbach scored the go-ahead goal at 8:18 into the second on a feed from Aaron Bendickson, who battled along the right wing boards before finding his linemate. Bohmbach fought off MSU’s Blake Friesen and spun around to torch the back of the net.
“We need everyone to chip in if we’re going to win these playoff games,” said Bohmbach, who finished the night with two points. “It’s a gritty game. It doesn’t matter if you’re a fourth line or first line player. You just battle all night.”
Senior forward Tom Gorowsky provided an insurance goal at 17:19 in the third after freshman Derek Stepan won a puck battle along the end boards and eventually found his linemate in the slot. Gorowsky was able to spin around and beat Zacharias glove-side for a 4-1 UW lead.
“Tommy’s goal was about protecting the puck down low and ultimately bringing the puck to the net himself,” Eaves said.
The Mavericks made things interesting with time winding down. Just 19 seconds after Gorowsky appeared to have sealed things for Wisconsin, Minnesota State’s Adam Mueller charged in on the net and poked the puck past UW goaltender Shane Connelly to cut the lead to 4-2.
The Badgers managed to hold on in the final few minutes, however, behind a few big saves from Connelly to complete the sweep of the Mavericks, a team they took just one point from two weekends ago.
“The way in which we won and the way in which we closed the series was done like a good team would need to do,” Eaves said.
For Connelly and Gorowsky, the sweep had extra meaning. It was the final game in the Kohl Center for the pair of Badger seniors, and both contributed; Gorowsky with a goal and Connelly with 28 saves in a winning effort.
However, they know theres more hockey to be played.
“It’s definitely a special weekend to do this,” Connelly said. “It hasn’t sunk in yet. I’m sure it will, but right now the goal is to continue onto the Xcel Energy Center.”