ST. PAUL, Minn. — When Wisconsin gets a power play, the Badgers go to work with sticks in hand and a twig in mind. It’s a plan based on an acronym, and Wisconsin proved Friday night that it works.
“We use a method our coaches call the TWIG — Take What Is Given,” said Wisconsin defenseman Brendan Smith. “The biggest thing was that we kept the puck moving. I felt that it kept them running around not knowing who to cover so I think it worked for us.”
The top-seeded Badgers scored on their first three power plays and finished 3-for-7 with the man advantage in a 3-2 West Regional semifinal win against No. 4 Vermont at the Xcel Energy Center.
Justin Schultz got Wisconsin on the board with a slap shot from the point in the first period; Michael Davies scored from the left circle; and Blake Geoffrion scored the game-winner with 44 seconds remaining in the second period.
The Badgers face St. Cloud State on Saturday for the chance to play in the Frozen Four. SCSU beat Wisconsin 2-0 last Friday at the WCHA Final Five.
“The special teams have been really solid for us and tonight was an example,” said Badgers coach Mike Eaves. “Obviously, our power play was huge tonight and created a lot of scoring chances for us.”
But it was the Catamounts who took a 2-1 lead into the first intermission. Dan Lawson tied the game at one 7:22 into the game when he threw a shot on on goal from the right circle and the puck found its way into the net amid a skirmish in the crease. The play went under review, questioning whether the puck crossed the goal line, but the goal counted.
Vermont took the lead when Brian Roloff came from behind the goal and grabbed a loose puck to the right of the net, turned around and scored his ninth goal of the season.
“We were certainly happy with the lead but we knew there was a lot of time left,” Roloff said. “Having an older team, we didn’t really get too high on [the lead].”
The Catamounts outshot the Badgers 16-14 in the first period but Wisconsin, which was 3-5-3 when trailing after one period going into Friday’s game, came out of the intermission and outshot Vermont 16-3 in the second period.
“We were getting outworked and we were losing battles along the walls,” Geoffrion said. “We came back out in the second period firing on all cylinders.”
The Badgers tied it four minutes in when Derek Stepan made a pass from behind the net to Davies standing to Vermont goaltender Rob Madore’s right; Davies scored from the right circle with 43 seconds left on a penalty to Vermont’s Jonathon Higgins.
“I just got the puck and shot it,” Davies said. “I wasn’t even really looking at the net and I just threw it on net and was fortunate it went in.”
Wisconsin got the lead back when Schultz skated through the slot and made a behind-the-back pass to Geoffrion, who beat Madore low from the slot for his 26th goal as time winded down in the second period.
“Schultz made an unbelievable pass behind his back,” Geoffrion said. “Their guy came out to block it but fortunately it went in.”
The game came down to goalies in the third period. Madore kept the Catamounts in it and Scott Gudmandson preserved the Wisconsin lead.
“[Madore] has always been there for us,” Roloff said. “You can’t really say enough about the big stops he made tonight for us that kept us in the game. He allowed the bench to keep its composure knowing you have a brick wall back there.”
Gudmandson made a save on Roloff with just under three minutes to go in the third period as Roloff charged the crease in an effort to tip in a centering pass.
He came up with another key save with 1:01 on the clock when Brayden Irwin tipped Drew MacKenzie’s slap shot from the point into Gudmandson’s chest as he held on for the faceoff.
With nine seconds left, the Badgers were able to clear the puck the length of the ice without an icing call to put the game away.
“When the game was on the line, we got a huge save from [Gudmandson] with three minutes to go,” Eaves said. “I thought we did a nice job after they pulled their goaltender and we looked like we knew what we were doing.”