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Playing three of its final four Big Ten series on the road, No.8 Wisconsin dropped a 2-1 decision on Friday night before rebounding with a 4-2 victory over Ohio State Saturday.
What’s the Impact
No.8 Wisconsin failed to fully capitalize on the momentum it established by sweeping No.1 Minnesota at home, while the Gophers rebounded by sweeping Michigan at home. That resulted in the Badgers (17-9-2, 8-5-1 Big Ten) falling seven points back with six games to go.
The good thing is that UW has a five point lead over both Michigan and Ohio State in the standings. With three points for each win, UW can make up the ground, or lose ground, quickly.
If the NCAA tournament started today, the Badgers would likely be sitting as a No.2 seed, as Wisconsin sits as a solid seventh in the Pairwise Ranking.
Either way, Wisconsin should avoid playing games on Valentine’s Day in the near future, as UW is 2-15-1 on Feb.14.
Who was the Weekend MVP
Senior center Mark Zengerle was the catalyst for Wisconsin on the weekend. He was outspoken on Friday after UW’s slow start – and that his potential game-tying goal in the third period went off the post – cost UW a chance at a victory, but he responded with two goals in the win Saturday. For Zengerle, that was the senior’s first multi-goal game since October 2011.
“He’s shooting the puck more and he was rewarded,” said UW coach Mike Eaves. “When he got with us he was a look-first player. He still is, but it used to be 80-20. Now it’s 60-40. I think he’s built confidence in his shot and glad to see him get rewarded. That in itself will encourage him to keep shooting.”
Three Areas of Concern
Slow Starts: It’s become a growing trend that the Badgers have not executed crisply in the first period, a stat that reared its ugly head on Friday night and ultimately cost Wisconsin a victory. UW was outshot 14-6 in the first period in game one and gave up two goals in that period that were a result of shoddy play by defensemen (losing a 50-50 puck and a failed clearing attempt).
Things were better on Saturday, as the Badgers got off to a 2-0 start in the first 20 minutes that set the tone for their victory, but the lack of consistency is a problem.
“The first thing we talked about after the game was it was the same game but in reverse,” Eaves said. “We got the 2-0 lead, that was the difference tonight, that was the difference last night.”
Road Woes: In 10 games on the road, UW has scored only 17 goals, a big reason why the Badgers are only 2-7-1 away from home. In fact, UW’s two goal lead Saturday was its first two goal lead on the road all season. With road games at Penn State, Michigan State and tournaments coming up, UW will need to find answers for its offense.
Missing Chances: Ohio State is really good at home (13-4-1), but the Badgers missed plenty of scoring chances to force overtime on Friday. Defenseman Frankie Simonelli also rang a shot off the post that could have stemmed the momentum Ohio State was generating early.
Three Areas of Excitement
Answering the Bell: Ohio State never fully recovered from the 2-0 deficit Saturday, though it twice cut the UW lead to a single goal. Each time, however, Wisconsin had an answer.
After Ohio State cut the lead to 2-1 heading into the third period, Zengerle delivered a rebound goal just 1:02 into the final period. Ohio State responded 55 seconds later on an odd-man rush, but junior goalie Joel Rumpel stymied a number of high-grade chances long enough for Nic Kerdiles to get an empty-net tally at 19:58. Rumpel finished the game with 28 saves on 30 shots.
Wisconsin at Full Strength (not debatable): A week after UW got Kerdiles back from a shoulder injury, Wisconsin got senior right winger Tyler Barnes back from his shoulder injury, meaning the Badgers are healthy for the first time since the calendar turned to 2014.
Penalty Kill: Wisconsin shut out all eight power play attempts by Ohio State on the weekend, a nice turnaround since Ohio State scored twice on the power play in Madison. Since that game, however, UW has killed off 35 of its past 36 penalties (97.2 percent). Rumpel deserves some of the credit by stopping 56 of 60 shots on the weekend.
“We had trouble with them in the Kohl Center on the power play, so we concentrated on that a lot in practice,” Rumpel said. “Our guys do such a great job of getting in lanes and blocking shots and letting me see the puck. If I can see it, it’ll hopefully be a save. They do a great job if I can’t see it of blocking it. It’s just a team effort up there.”
“You sweep the top team in the country in Minnesota and you lose to Ohio State Friday night, it kind of brings you back to reality that any team can win any night. We knew we didn’t play our best (Friday) and we didn’t have a good start. (Saturday) that was our focus. We accomplish that, and getting two goals early was a huge bonus.” – Rumpel
For the first time, Wisconsin faces Michigan State as conference foes in the Badgers’ final home series this weekend. Like the Badgers, the Spartans (9-13-7, 3-5-6) have struggled scoring on the road. In 11 road games, Michigan State has only 15 goals (1.36 per game). The Spartans are 1-7-3 on the road this season, but finally won their first road game Saturday at Penn State.
Michigan State leads the all-time series with Wisconsin 45-42-3, but the Badgers lead the series in Madison 23-16-2. UW and Michigan State played every year from 1993 to 2010 and multiple series from 1971 to 1981.