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No.8 Wisconsin swept its final series at home against fifth-place Michigan State, winning 5-2 on Friday and 2-0 on Saturday.
What’s the Impact
The Badgers (19-9-2, 10-5-1-0 Big Ten) grabbed all six points in the series and with 31 points, trail first-place Minnesota by one point with four regular season games to play, but UW has played two more games.
In the race to get a bye in the Big Ten tournament, Wisconsin leads Michigan by eight points, but the Badgers have played an extra game. The Badgers currently sit at sixth at the Pairwise Rankings; a very comfortable lead for Wisconsin.
Who was the Weekend MVP
Michael Mersch. Mersch was all over the ice in the series. He scored two big goals on Friday night and one on Saturday, all coming on Wisconsin’s beleaguered power play. Mersch did it the same way he has for years, sitting in front of the net and getting tough, gritty goals. He now has 19 goals on the season and 30 points, which moves him past Sam Warning of Minnesota for second best in the Big Ten.
Three Areas of Concern
Faceoffs: Wisconsin struggled in the faceoff circle. Both nights they won fewer than 50 percent of the faceoffs they took (20-for-50 on Friday, 20-for-60 on Saturday). Winning faceoffs will be important as the regular season draws to a close. Coming into the series against the Spartans, Wisconsin had won 52.2 percent of its attempts. Winning the draw is important to maintain offensive attacks.
Road tripping:Getting the sweep at home on senior week was key for Wisconsin, which has proven it can win at home, but the Badgers will need to find success on the road if they are going to make a championship run. With four road games remaining, the Badgers are 2-7-1 in road games this season.
Odd man rushes: Wisconsin gave up a few too many 2-on-1 and 3-on-2 rushes to the Spartans over the weekend. Untimely shift changes and the Spartans’ speed contributed to that. Friday night MSU capitalized when UW was caught on a shift change, leading to a breakaway shorthanded goal. Thankfully, UW goalie Joel Rumpel didn’t allow any more goals, even when the Spartans broke free.
Three Areas of Excitement
Home cooking:The Badgers won their 16th and 17th games at home over the weekend, which set a new Kohl Center record for wins in a single season. The program record for most wins at home was set in the 1972-73 season. That year, UW went 19-1-0 while it was still playing at the Dane County Coliseum.
Special teams:Wisconsin’s special teams are clicking heading into the final weeks. Friday was the first time in 13 games UW scored multiple times on the power play. The Badgers continued that momentum on Saturday with both goals coming on the man advantage. For the weekend, Wisconsin scored four power play goals, going 2-for-6 on Friday night and 2-for-5 on Saturday.
UW also killed off all seven penalty kill attempts and has now killed off 42 of its last 43 chances. Friday was also the first time in 11 games that Wisconsin had more power plays than penalty kills. With the two games, Wisconsin has now accomplished that feat just three times doing so in Big Ten play.
“That’s one of the few times this year where we’ve actually had more power plays than penalty kills,” Wisconsin coach Mike Eaves said. “Unusual, but we’re happy to accept it.”
Joel Rumpel:Rumpel was steady again in net, stopping all but two shots in the two games. Rumpel kept his pad level low and swallowed up most of the Spartans shots, not allowing many rebounds. He stopped 28 of 30 shots on Friday and all 31 shots on Saturday night.
“Getting the shutout is big,” defenseman Frankie Simonelli said. “It helps your team play with confidence as well. It starts with him and works its way forward. Our team emphasizes a lot on our team defense and we wouldn't have good team defense if we didn't have a good backstop back there. So definitely kudos to him with how he's been playing and hopefully he can keep it going down the stretch."
“Having nine guys stay this long—four years—and be major contributors, the biggest comment we can make as a staff is what they were like as freshman and what they are now, and the quantum leap of growth that has happened in their life. Whether it’s physical—they came in as skinny, little freshman and walk out as mature men that are maybe 15-to-20 pounds heavier. I think mentally they have a lot more skills in terms of time management.
“I think emotionally they go through ups and downs, they have more control. We’ve been through a lot of battles together (with) this group (and) ups and downs. And that’s how you become close. – Eaves
Next weekend the Badgers will head into their final bye week before playing Penn State to start their two-week road trip that will end the season. The Nittany Lions (6-20-2, 2-11-1-0 Big Ten, 7 points) are coming off a series split against Michigan. The Badgers swept Penn State at home, 7-1 and 4-3, the first week of December.