MADISON, Wis. — They took care of what mattered most, but there were a lot of little things that weren’t up to the third-ranked Wisconsin Badgers’ expectations.
Wisconsin scored twice in a 2 minute, 37 second span covering parts of the first and second periods Friday, and opened a best-of-three WCHA first-round playoff series with a 4-1 victory over Alaska-Anchorage at the Kohl Center.
Scott Gudmandson made 27 saves for the Badgers, who won for the fifth time in their last six games.
Yet afterward, there was no sign of great satisfaction from the Badgers, probably due as much to the fact that the method was less than convincing as because the weekend’s job is only half done.
“We’ll definitely take the win,” Badgers winger Michael Davies said, “but at the same time it’s definitely not our best hockey. We’ve got to come up better tomorrow.”
Wisconsin (23-9-4) was 0-for-8 on the power play — perhaps the most glaring issue that surfaced in the course of a game that didn’t exude much in the way of flow.
Badgers coach Mike Eaves pointed to one of his pet peeves when it comes to the power play and said it was front and center for his team Friday.
“We thought we were seeing something, but it wasn’t there and we tried to force it,” Eaves said.
Davies took his share of the blame, conceding that the issues started with him.
“I’m not sure what it was with me tonight,” he said. “My hands were on page one and my brain was on page 50. They were not together.”
Still, the Badgers won in the final analysis of the two critical areas of playoff hockey: special teams and goaltending.
Despite being held scoreless on the power play, Wisconsin scored a shorthanded goal in the second period, and it turned out to be a solidifying score.
Ahead 2-0 on goals by Davies late in the first and Aaron Bendickson early in the second but with defenseman Brendan Smith in the box for hitting after the whistle, the Badgers broke out of their zone, with Blake Geoffrion leading the rush with his gas tank on fumes.
He managed to get the puck through a Seawolves defender and over to Jake Gardiner, who fired home a low shot for a 3-0 lead.
Gudmandson caught some eyes for his success in playing the puck — it hasn’t been a strength for the junior this season — and outdueled Seawolves counterpart Jon Olthuis (25 saves). He admitted to his share of faults, though.
He didn’t appear completely comfortable with his catching hand, and it led to rebound chances for the Seawolves.
“I kept dropping a few pucks there,” Gudmandson said. “But I think the guys did a good job blocking out so I could swat those away before anybody could get back there.”
Craig Smith added a second-period goal for the Badgers, sending them into the intermission with a four-goal lead.
But the Seawolves (11-22-2) did what they wanted to do in the third period — they started to get claw their way back into the series and got a goal from Craig Parkinson with 46.4 seconds remaining to end Gudmandson’s shutout bid and win the final frame.
“They’re a team that thrives on momentum and generating shots,” Alaska-Anchorage coach Dave Shyiak said of the Badgers. “They had 29 shots and [eight] power plays; they didn’t score on the power play and we won the third period. I was proud of our guys. We didn’t quit.”
Shyiak bemoaned the lack of flow in the game, and said that while his team gave the Badgers eight power plays, it wasn’t for any lack of discipline.
“It is what it is,” said Shyiak, whose team has just one win in its last nine games (1-7-1). “We’ve got to rebound.”
Alaska-Anchorage hit the post twice in the game — Lee Baldwin found iron on a first-period power play and Tommy Grant did the same in the third.
Over a 10-minute span covering parts of the first and second periods, the Badgers outshot the Seawolves 10-2 — making up for a slumbering start — and scored twice to break things open.
Davies zoomed off the bench and held the puck in the attacking zone, then got a pass back from Derek Stepan and redirected it home to put the Badgers ahead inside the final two minutes of the first period.
Bendickson doubled the advantage 47 seconds into the second period when he dived to poke in the rebound left by Olthuis on a John Ramage shot.
“I thought that was a goal that hurt us,” Shyiak said.
Now comes the hard part for the Badgers, who continue to solidify their hold on a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament: ending an opponent’s season.
“That’s a very daunting task,” Eaves said.