College Hockey:
Three-goal first period sets tone for Wisconsin in quarterfinal win over Minnesota State

— Minnesota State outshot Wisconsin 40-27 Thursday afternoon, had an edge in shot attempts to the tune of 77-40 and had nine power play chances — of which the Mavericks scored on two.

Yet, thanks to an opportunistic and hungry first eight minutes, the Badgers cruised to a WCHA Final Five quarterfinal victory.

2013 WCHA Final Five

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Call it opportunistic or even lucky, the Badgers were all over Stephon Williams and Minnesota State, using a pair of goals from both Tyler Barnes and Jefferson Dahl to down the Mavericks 7-2 in front of an announced crowd of 15,971 at Xcel Energy Center.

“The game was an interesting one,” Wisconsin coach Mike Eaves said. “I don’t think I would have suspected the number of goals that we scored. But the pucks went in the net for us tonight.”

Wisconsin (20-12-7) needs two wins this weekend in order to position itself for a possible return to the NCAA tournament. The Badgers needed to come out urgently against a potent Minnesota State offense, and they did that, jumping out to a 3-0 lead in the game’s first 8:11.

Barnes had a Minnesota State pass attempt hit his skate on the Mavericks blue line, gifting the junior a breakaway goal just 63 seconds in. A short-handed rush led to a Dahl goal at 6:11, and two minutes later Nic Kerdiles added one from the right circle that trickled through the five-hole of Stephon Williams at 8:11, making the freshman netminder’s Xcel Energy Center debut a forgettable one.

“Just the way we preach every game is to have a good start, to outwork them, win battles and races,” Barnes said. “Last weekend too, we kind of started out with fire by getting pucks at the goalie’s feet and the rebounds we had. Fortunately, tonight the pucks were able to find the net.”

Wisconsin pushed the lead to 4-0 on Dahl’s second short-handed goal of the game 8:50 into the second.

Minnesota State (24-13-3) didn’t have much of an answer. A John Ramage charging major spotted the Mavericks two goals late in the second period, as Zach Palmquist netted one at 10:53 and Eriah Hayes beat Joel Rumpel (38 saves) at 13:51.

But Minnesota State — mathematically in the NCAA tournament next week in virtually every PairWise Rankings scenario — got no closer.

“Well, obviously not the start we wanted,” coach Mike Hastings said. “I wanted to at least get to the second minute. … It wasn’t the start we were looking for and obviously that, combined with them smelling a little blood in the water, was why it didn’t get done tonight.

“[Wisconsin] did a great job of coming out and taking advantage of a couple opportunities and finishing them. I don’t think we reacted well to that.”

Hastings was quick to defend his freshman goaltender, too, saying the rest of the team put him in a bad position. “We could have done a little better of not having a guy come in alone in the first minute,” he said. “If it was that, I thought we could have given him a little better support. I think we put him on an island early and they finished.”

Dahl had a possible hat trick goal waved off late in the second period due to his skate being ruled in the crease while he screened Williams, but Barnes scored his second of the afternoon a few minutes later, beating a sprawled-out Williams at 12:24 of the second.

Williams was injured on the play and was replaced by Phil Cook after 14 saves in 32:24 of play. Hastings thought he’d have an update on Williams — as well as updates to injuries suffered by Chase Grant and Eli Zuck in the third period — in a day or two.

Frankie Simonelli and Joseph LaBate beat Cook (6 saves) late in the third to punctuate what the scoreboard reflected as a rout. But that’s not what it looked like to the Badgers, who saw room for improvement that will have to come in order to take down St. Cloud State on Friday.

“The goals are great, but I believe — and I think everyone here believes — that certain areas of our games we can firm out, and we need to for tomorrow,” Eaves said.

One area of improvement? Penalties, of which the Badgers took nine.

“We definitely need to stay out of the box,” Barnes said. “It’s just moving our feet and just having good body position all over the ice. That’ll take away a lot of it. Just work hard.”

Either way, Wisconsin knows it shouldn’t count on pucks going in as easily as they did Thursday.

“We’re just going to put it in the back of our minds,” Barnes said. “We need to have a short memory because things don’t carry over.”

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