VERONA, Wis. — If top-ranked Wisconsin needed a wake-up call to get ready for playoff hockey, it certainly got one Friday night against the WCHA’s last-place team, St. Cloud State.
The Huskies pushed the Badgers to the brink through the first 40 minutes, but Wisconsin junior forward Carolyne Prevost had the answer, breaking open a 4-3 game with a brilliant power-play goal in the early stages of the third period.
The Badgers (31-2-2) dominated from that point forward, scoring four more times for 9-3 victory Friday night at the Eagles Nest Ice Arena.
“I think that goal really got the tempo going for our team,” Prevost said. “They were slowly coming back there in the second period and we needed to prevent that from happening.”
On the decisive goal, Prevost got a pass from sophomore forward Brianna Decker deep in the offensive zone. The Sarnia, Ontario, native then faked two defenders before sliding the puck through St. Cloud State senior goaltender Ashley Nixon’s legs.
“Brianna made a really good pass to me and I was able to put in through the five hole,” Prevost said. “That goal finally got us up on our toes where we should have been [the whole game].”
The play impressed Wisconsin coach Mark Johnson, who wanted his veterans to take over the game.
“That’s what you look for from the kids who have been there before,” Johnson said. “We rely on them to step up when we get down.”
The Badgers showed plenty of jump in the early going, scoring just 15 seconds into the game. On a three-on-one rush, Decker found senior forward Meghan Duggan for a one-timer tally.
Five minutes later Wisconsin struck again. This time it was junior forward Hilary Knight who beat the Huskies’ defense, then Nixon for a goal out of the left corner.
“When you score on the first shifts of the game it can be good or bad,” Johnson said. “It can really create some energy, but you still have to work [and not let up] because the game’s not over.”
It certainly wasn’t over as St. Cloud State (1-32-1) surprised the sellout crowd by responding with the game’s next two goals.
First it was freshman forward Julia Gilbert, who after a Badgers turnover on the left-side boards, scored on a third rebound chance.
Six and half minutes later Gilbert struck again, this time feeding sophomore forward Alex Nelson, who slid the puck past Wisconsin’s Alex Rigsby to tie the game at two.
“Alex Nelson, Syd [Burghardt] and Gilby just played great tonight,” Huskies coach Jeff Giesen said. “That’s what we’ve hoped for out of them all season long.”
Wisconsin regained the lead in the final two minutes of the first as Decker scored a power-play goal off a deflection from Knight’s point shot. Decker added a second power-play goal early in the second period, scoring off a one-timed pass from Duggan for a 4-2 advantage.
But the Huskies refused to go away as Nelson closed the margin to 4-3 with a one-timed blast of her own.
“I thought we had a great team effort from top to bottom tonight,” Giesen said. “But we made four bad plays there in the third period and gave them opportunities that they took advantage of.”
Prevost, freshman forward Madison Packer, Duggan and Knight all added late goals for a winded Wisconsin.
“We didn’t come out and play Badgers hockey from the get go tonight,” said Knight, who scored her NCAA-leading 43rd and 44th goals of the season. “That really hurt us, but in third period we finally showed our true talent.”
Johnson expects a much better showing from his team in Saturday night’s second game of the best-of-three opening-round playoff series.
“I would anticipate us coming back here tomorrow and playing a lot better than we did tonight,” Johnson said.
Meanwhile, Giesen says his team can build on its almost effort against the Badgers.
“We were 20 minutes away from making it a really interesting game,” Giesen said. “It just slipped away from us, but our girls know they can play with [Wisconsin] if they get pucks to the net and make things happen.”
Video: Wisconsin’s Hilary Knight:
Video: Wisconsin’s Carolyne Prevost:
Video: St. Cloud State coach Jeff Giesen: