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Brendan Woods scored with 1:42 remaining to help No.16 Wisconsin overcome a pair of blown third-period leads to win 4-3 Friday night. Woods has six points in his last seven games after recording just three points in his first 25 games played this season.
On Saturday, Wisconsin exploded for four goals in the second period and crushed Nebraska-Omaha, 6-2, for the Badgers third road sweep of the season.
What’s the Impact
Without question this was a huge bounce back for Wisconsin after its unexpected loss to Penn State on Monday. After tumbling 11 spots into a tie for 28th following the 3-2 overtime defeat to the Nittany Lions, Wisconsin climbed into a tie for 20th with the sweep. The Badgers now sit in a tie for fifth place in the WCHA with Minnesota State. UW is two points behind North Dakota and Minnesota, one point ahead of Nebraska-Omaha and two points ahead of Denver in a jumbled playoff picture.
Wisconsin finished 8-2-4 on the road in league play, earning a point in every league road playoff game for the sixth time in program history and first since the 2009-10 season.
Who were the Weekend MVPs
After scoring the first goal in Friday’s game, junior forward Mark Zengerle added a goal and three assists on Saturday. Three of those points came in Wisconsin’s big second period, as Zengerle assisted on Michael Mersch’s game winner and Jake McCabe’s goal and scored on the power play with only five seconds left in the period. In the last six games, Zengerle has three goals and seven assists.
Woods also deserves credit for his Friday performance. Not only did he score the game-winning goal, he had a plus-minus ratio of plus-3.
Three Areas of Excitement
Saturday’s Special Teams: Both the power play and the penalty kill struggled on Friday (0-for-2 on the man advantage, 2-for-4 on the penalty kill) but Wisconsin was able to survive in spite of it. That wasn’t the case on Saturday with Wisconsin scoring on two of its six chances, including just 3:03 into the game on its first power play shift. Zengerle’s goal with at 19:55 of the second period was the back breaker. Those two power plays goals were Wisconsin’s first away from home since October 26 (1-for-41 entering the night).
The penalty kill only had to kill off three penalties, but the Badgers killed off a vital 5-minute major penalty between the first and second period that could have turned the momentum in favor of Nebraska-Omaha. Woods was given a game misconduct for checking from behind, but UW killed off the first 2:17 in the first period and the last 2:43 at the start of the second. Thirteen seconds after UW got back to full strength, Ryan Little scored and UW never looked back.
Quick Strikes: In the series opener, Wisconsin never trailed because it responded to every punch Omaha threw at them. After the Mavericks tied the game in the third period with a power play goal, Joseph LaBate scored 22 seconds later to put UW back in front. On Saturday, UW scored in the first 3:03 of every period to deflate Omaha.
Containing Walters: UNO junior Ryan Walters is the Mavericks’ Hobey Baker Award candidate and one of the most dynamic forwards in the WCHA, able to turn the game around by himself. The Badgers limited him to one goal (his 20th) and an assist on Friday and a lone assist on Saturday. By shutting Walters down, UW quieted a key portion of UNO’s offense.
Three Areas of Concern
If we had to be picky, Joel Rumpel allowed five goals on the weekend (91.1 save percentage), Woods’ penalty could have been avoided and the specials team’s problems Friday, but it reality there are no big concerns from this series. Wisconsin played one of its best series of the season at the right time. The key now is if they can sustain that over the next three weekends and play themselves into the NCAA tournament.
“It was a funny feeling standing up on the bench in the third period, being up (on the scoreboard) like that. I can’t remember the last time we had that in a game, so we had to talk about a different mindset going into the third period and how we wanted to play with the lead.” – Wisconsin coach Mike Eaves.
Wisconsin finishes the regular season against No.7 St. Cloud State Friday and Saturday. The games will be played at the Coliseum due to the WIAA state boys basketball tournament occupying the Kohl Center. This will be the first meeting between the two schools this season.
The Huskies (20-13-1, 17-8-1 WCHA) missed a chance to clinch a share of the MacNaughton Cup (given to the WCHA regular season champion) with a 5-1 home loss to Michigan Tech on Saturday. The Huskies have split in their last three series after going 5-0-1 in their previous six games.
Wisconsin hasn’t beaten St. Cloud State since March 27, 2010, going 0-5-1 during that winless streak. Wisconsin needs to sweep the series and hope that Minnesota (at 11th-place Bemidji State) and North Dakota (at fourth-place Minnesota State) split to earn a share of the regular season title.