BOSTON — With a 5-1 win over Minnesota-Duluth, including four power-play goals, Wisconsin advanced to the NCAA championship game for the fourth straight year, the longest such streak in women’s hockey.
The night belonged to Hilary Knight, who had two goals and two assists, and Wisconsin captain Erika Lawler, who chipped in two goals on the power play. Goaltender Jessie Vetter stopped 29 of the 30 shots and will have a chance to win her third NCAA championship on Sunday.
Already holding a 1-0 lead, the Badgers put the game away with two power-play goals on the same major penalty, a hitting from behind infraction to Duluth leading scorer Elin Holmlov that carried an automatic game disqualification.
“That was the turning point, clearly,” said Shannon Miller, head coach for Minnesota-Duluth. “To face a five-minute penalty kill is unbelievable, and to lose your top scorer is very difficult.
“I didn’t see what happened, because the play was to my right. I watched a replay during the intermission, and I have my own opinion of what happened.”
The first of the two goals on the major came from the nation’s leading goal-scorer, Knight. Breaking into the zone and sliding the puck past the toe of Duluth goaltender Johanna Ellison, Knight set a Wisconsin team record for goals in a season with 43.
The second goal was scored by Lawler as she got a stick in front of a shot from teammate Meghan Duggan and redirected the puck into the goal. Lawler, who hails from Fitchburg, Mass., had a large contingent of local fans in Boston University’s Agganis Arena.
“It’s great to be in Boston. It’s great to have family around,” said Lawler. “But we’re focused on the game. What matters is that we have another chance to win a championship.”
These two teams are not strangers, having played each other five times this season, most recently in the WCHA semifinal, a 3-1 Wisconsin win. Also, the two teams met in the NCAA championship game in both 2007 and 2008.
“I thought it would be a low-scoring game,” said Wisconsin coach Mark Johnson. “But every game has its own story. I didn’t foresee all the penalties between the two teams. I anticipated it would be 2-1, or 3-2, or maybe even 1-0. But our power play allowed us to get to five.”
Despite their familiarity, both teams started the game tentatively, trading scoring chances but staying off the scoresheet. Wisconsin used two early power plays to generate chances.
“The first 10 minutes we were a bit nervous,” said Johnson. “When you have a power play, you hope that even if you don’t get a goal, you create some energy for your team. We settled down after that.”
The best scoring chance for Duluth came when Holmlov, just coming off the bench, intercepted a pass, broke in alone on Vetter, and clanged a shot off the goalpost.
Play in the second period favored Duluth until a penalty to UMD’s Jamie Rasmussen allowed the Badger offense to go to work. Lawler got her first goal of the night, a shot from behind the net that bounced off the skate of Ellison and into the net.
Then came the major penalty to Holmlov, which changed the complexion of the game.
Kyla Sanders got another goal for Wisconsin in the third to make it 4-0, lifting the puck over the outstretched foot of Ellison, and then Knight added her second power-play goal on a shot from the point that found its way to the back of the net.
The only drama left in the game was whether Vetter would extend her NCAA career record of 38 shutouts. That ended late in the period as UMD finally got on the board with a Rasmussen goal. She shot it past the outstretched arm of Vetter and the puck bounced off a player and into the net.
“I try to get a shutout in every game,” said Vetter. “But sometimes the puck takes a funny bounce. There aren’t many hard feelings when your team is winning by several goals and is going to play in the NCAA title game.”