MADISON, Wis. — Trailing 1-0 after the first period, Wisconsin coach Mark Johnson turned to his top forwards, junior Hilary Knight, sophomore Brianna Decker, and senior Meghan Duggan to turnaround the Badgers fate.
Reunited on the Wisconsin’s first line, the Badgers three leading scorers sparked a turnaround, scoring a pair of goals to advance Wisconsin to the Frozen Four with a 2-1 NCAA quarterfinal victory over Minnesota-Duluth Saturday night at the Kohl Center.
“In the first period, I didn’t think we had the legs that I was anticipating,” Johnson said. “So I wanted to try something to create more offense, because I thought we had another gear we could reach.”
With the game tied seven and half minutes into the third period, Wisconsin’s big three caught the Bulldogs deep in the offensive zone, resulting in a three-on-two rush the other way and the game’s winning goal.
After Decker started the play, Knight moved the puck to Duggan, who redirected a high shot on net. The rolling puck deflected off the top of Bulldogs senior goaltender Kim Martin’s stick and over the goal line.
“Knowing how Minnesota-Duluth plays, we knew could get some odd-man rushes off turnovers,” Duggan said. “I was kind of trailing the play a little bit, but Hilary made a nice feed to me and I just whacked at it. I barely saw it go in and I had no idea how to celebrate it.”
Starting the second period, Decker, Duggan and Knight played like they never missed each other, forcing the issue on the Bulldogs and drawing an early penalty.
Eight seconds later, Knight made Minnesota-Duluth pay, firing a low shot that found its way through a swarm of bodies and past Martin to tie the score at one a piece.
“Whenever I get the opportunity to play with (Decker and Duggan), I get very excited,” said Knight, who leads the NCAA with 47 goals. “(But) it’s an easy transition for us because we always seem to know where each other are on the ice.”
The defending national champions missed out on their own man advantage late in the first period, but the Bulldogs would strike for the game’s first goal just after penalty expired.
Badgers freshman goaltender Alex Rigsby stopped Minnesota-Duluth junior forward Haley Irwin’s initial wraparound chance, but the puck squirted right to sophomore forward Jessica Wong, who put away the rebound.
“I think we surprised them with our forecheck, having two players down low behind the net,” Irwin said. “That left (Wong) wide open and she was able to put the puck in the net.”
In the game’s final stages, the Bulldogs had several chances to force overtime. With nine minutes left, Minnesota-Duluth senior defenseman Jocelyne Larocque had Rigsby beat, but the tying chance slide just wide.
“We all worked hard trying to get that second goal to tie game,” Larocque said. “I am just proud of how we played all game.”
Four minutes later, Irwin got a power play point shot through a screen, but Rigsby found the puck just in time to preserve the victory.
“My first game against St. Cloud State, I suffered a little bit from the playoff butterflies,” said Rigsby, who made 29 saves. “But tonight I played like it was any other game and just rode the recent momentum of our team.”
Martin finished the night as the hard luck loser, finishing her impressive career at Minnesota-Duluth with 38 saves.
“My (teammates) made things a lot easier for me by keeping most of Wisconsin’s shots to the outside,” Martin said. “I thought we played really (well) tonight, but too bad the pucks bounced (UW’s) way.”
However, the seventh-ranked Bulldogs (22-9-3) left the rink knowing they pushed No. 1 Wisconsin to brink on the Badgers home ice.
“Every time we play Wisconsin, the games are always great because we match up well with them,” UMD coach Shannon Miller said. “Tonight was another 2-1 hockey game that either team could have won.”
Meanwhile, No. 1 ranked Wisconsin (35-2-2) advances to the Frozen Four, where they will face Boston College in the national semifinals on March 18.
“For me it was an emotional night win or loss, being my last game at the Kohl Center,” Duggan said. “But I had no doubt in my team that we were going to pull it off and I didn’t want to leave here any other way.”
Video: Minnesota-Duluth coach Shannon Miller:
Video: Wisconsin coach Mark Johnson:
Video: Wisconsin captain Meghan Duggan:
Video: Wisconsin’s Hilary Knight and Meghan Duggan:
Video: Minnesota-Duluth’s Haley Irwin:
Video: Minnesota-Duluth’s Kim Martin: