MADISON, Wis. — The win may have come one night too late for Wisconsin, but the important thing was that it came at all.
The Badgers broke a seven-game winless streak with a 3-1 win over Colorado College Saturday night at the Kohl Center that, if anything, gives them a tiny bit of momentum heading into the playoffs.
“We got our 20th win tonight, which has been up there for a long time; it’s really been a monkey on our back,” Wisconsin coach Mike Eaves said.
With Wisconsin up 2-0, Colorado College pulled to within one at 11:39 of the third period as Dakota Eveland, Archie Skalbeck and Stephen Schultz got a three-on-two rush. Skalbeck put the puck off of Badgers defenseman Justin Schultz’s skate and past UW goaltender Scott Gudmandson’s right pad to make the game 2-1.
For most of the night however, Gudmandson was a wall. The senior made 33 saves and looked confident corralling rebounds.
“We didn’t make it that tough on him the first half of the game, but I thought the second half of the game in particular, we tested him pretty well and he made some big saves,” CC coach Scott Owens said.
“He was excellent. He made some unbelievable saves, but the thing that was most impressive from the bench was his rebound control,” Eaves said. “Any shots that were up in his chest, around his arm padding, he just controlled like he was a Hoover vacuum cleaner.”
Gudmandson kept the Badgers in the game, and although the Tigers gave them chance after chance to break the game open, UW seemed to politely decline to do so, going 1-7 on the power play — which included a five-minute man advantage within the first four minutes of play.
But when the Badgers got one last crucial opportunity, they finally converted.
Schultz pushed the lead back to two goals and finally put the Wisconsin power play unit on the board with a goal at 15:35 of the third period. The Tigers pushed the Badgers back into the neutral zone and Schultz caught them off guard by knifing his way up the slot alone and putting the puck top-shelf over CC goaltender Josh Thorimbert.
Patrick Johnson’s eighth goal of the season at 6:48 of the second gave Wisconsin a two-goal cushion and ultimately, the win. Freshman winger Tyler Barnes raced up the right wing on a two-on-one with Johnson, then fed the puck into the slot for the finish.
The goal marked the fourth game in a row Johnson has scored.
Initially, it looked like Wisconsin’s streak might continue. Unable to produce on the five-minute power play, the Badgers managed just four shots on goal in the first period to the Tigers’ 10.
“I was a little disappointed with our start tonight, we had a big five-minute kill,” Owens said. “We had some one-and-done shots, but that was about all we had, 10-4 in the first period. I was hoping we could use that as momentum to get up on top of them, and it didn’t work out.”
Fittingly, Wisconsin’s first goal in a game where the Badgers struggled when a man up came short-handed. Center Craig Smith took the puck up the right wing and fired a shot on Thorimbert’s five-hole that trickled underneath and over the goal line.
UW’s 1-0 lead at 1:57 of the second period was the first time in eight games the Badgers scored first in a contest.
Still, CC got what it needed from the trip to Madison, earning a 3-2 win the night before to lock up home ice for the first round of the WCHA playoffs. St. Cloud State’s loss to Denver means the Tigers will host the Badgers in Colorado Springs next week for potentially three more games.
“I think it will be a great series; I think it will probably be a three-game series,” Owens said.
Wisconsin’s first win since Jan. 29 moved its record to 20-14-4, 12-13-3 in the WCHA. Colorado College finished the regular season with a .500 mark in conference play at 13-13-2 and 19-16-3 overall.
If the two teams do end up meeting again in the first round of the playoffs, recent history gives the edge to CC. The Tigers are 10-3-1 against the Badgers since 2007, and just one of those losses came at World Arena.
For now, the Wisconsin seniors are enjoying going out as winners in their last game at the Kohl Center.
“After the game, a bunch of the seniors had a little bit of tears in their eyes because there’s no place like this place,” Johnson said. “You can play in the NHL, but still, the fans aren’t as good as they are here. It was really emotional tonight.”