MADISON – Wisconsin head coach Mike Eaves equated last night’s uninspired performance, a 3-0 Minnesota State shutout, to his team failing to build a symbolic fire.
Commenting that a successful team gathers the wood and tinder so when it’s time to play, they can figuratively drop a match into the fire and watch the energy erupt from it, the tenth-ranked Badgers Friday night was a product of scrambling around to build a fire from scratch from the opening whistle, failing to generate any type of spark in the process.
One night later, Wisconsin’s offense built a fire so large that it literally ignited the home team back into the playoff hunt.
A night where the Badgers honored their four seniors, four different Wisconsin players tallied goals for the home team Saturday night, as host UW turned a complete 180 from game one in the series and humbled the red-hot Mavericks, 4-2, in front of a capacity crowd in UW’s home regular season finale.
“We were much more focused at the start of the game,” said Eaves, as his team jumped up to 12th in the PairWise rankings. “The purpose was there and getting that early goal was a big factor, as everybody felt we were back and moved forward from there.”
Scoring his seventh goal of the year, freshman forward Patrick Johnson was the one responsible for bringing Wisconsin (14-12-6, 10-10-4) back to winning hockey when he scored UW’s first goal of the weekend in the opening period.
Receiving the pass and seeing Maverick defenseman Blake Friesen mimic his movement, Johnson faked going center to get Friesen out of position, skated back toward the left face off circle and fired a one timer that slid right through Minnesota State goalie' Mike Zacharias' right arm pit.
“It was a good turning point,” Johnson said. “Usually we don’t get the first goal and it’s nice to get the first goal and play with the lead. After last night, we had to come out strong.”
Much like the Mavericks (16-11-4, 10-10-4) did the night before, the Badgers kept the foot on the accelerator in the second period.
Sophomore forward John Mitchell scores his sixth goal of the year when a wrist shot from Aaron Bendickson went between a defenseman legs and bounced off his stick, deflecting it over the Zacharias’ right shoulder.
Sophomore forward Michael Davies scored his ninth of the season on the power play when a shot off the stick from Jamie McBain rebounded right to him, giving him a wide-open net.
And it was only fitting that on senior night, senior captain Davis Drewiske notched his second goal of the year just 71 seconds later into another power play when his shot, helped by a perfect screen by Blake Geoffrion on Zacharias, found the back of the night to give the Badgers a three-goal second period.
“I thought the momentum really swung to us heavily to put those four goals up pretty quick,” Drewiske said. “That’s good experience for us playing with a lead, knowing when to go and when to stay back and cover for each other. To build up a lead like that was a good thing for us down the line.”
After going 1-for-18 in its last three games on the power play, including getting off only five shots in five tries with the man advantage, the Badgers went 2-for-6 on the power play against the second-worst penalty killing team in the conference, with Davies and Drewiske’s goals being Maverick back breakers.
“We took a dumb, dumb penalty that gave them the momentum,” said MSU head coach Troy Jutting in reference to forward Ryan Galiardi’s slashing penalty that helped UW score its second goal. “We had been doing a good job of not talking the penalty. Not tonight unfortunately.”
It was a tough night for Minnesota State all around. Although stopping 25 shots, Zacharias did not look as invincible as he did the night before, the Mavericks struggled to generate grade-A scoring chances through the first two periods and lacked its trademark intensity at the start of the game that had earned them a program-best seven consecutive wins.
Even Minnesota State’s two goals weren’t pretty. Geoff Irwin scored Minnesota State first goal when his shot deflected off two Wisconsin defensemen and into the net and Jon Kalinski shorthanded score came to fruition when he stopped, loaded and fired a shot that beat UW goalie Shane Connelly when he failed to react.
After a night where Jutting admitted that all that was separating the two teams was a couple bounces that went their way Friday, he conceded that Wisconsin received the fortuitous bounces Saturday, including Andrew Sackrison’s shot in the opening minute that clanked square off the post.
“I thought we played a good third period but that does not cut it at this level this time of the year,” said Jutting, as the Badgers and the Mavericks are once again tied for fourth place. “Early on we have a nice play and we hit the post. That would have changed a lot of things right away.”
The win in their official home finale gives the Badgers their 10th home victory of the year and regains some of their lost momentum heading into a four-game road swing to end the year. Ask any of the Wisconsin seniors about their last home game, however, and they’ll be quick to tell you that they expect to be here for the WCHA playoffs.
“More than anything we feel we aren’t done here at the Kohl (Center),” Drewiske said. “Tonight was a response to last night’s game. We’re going to do whatever it takes to get it done and we’ll look to do that the next two weekends."