MADISON – The Kohl Center errupted when the Wisconsin Badgers finished off the first round of the WCHA playoffs by defeating the Minnesota-Duluth Bulldogs 4-1 in Saturday night’s showdown.
The Badgers sounded the horn for the first goal of the night from Jefferson Dahl just under three minutes into the game, followed by another tally from Michael Mersch. UMD Bulldog Justin Crandall kept the scoreboard active by cutting Wisconsin’s lead in half, 2-1, all within the first five minutes of the game. Wisconsin’s Kevin Schulze tallied another goal for the Badgers in the first period to send the home team into the locker room with a 3-1 lead. The second period failed to produce scoring from either team, but Tyler Barnes recorded his 11th goal of the year in the third period, capping off the weekend with a 4-1 win.
With the sweep of Minnesota-Duluth, Wisconsin will play either Colorado College or Denver in the first round of the WCHA Final Five tournament in St. Paul, Minnesota. The Badgers join the Gophers, who have already swept Bemidji State in teams that will participate in the 2013 Final Five.
What I Saw
Duluth started the game slow, giving up early goals and allowing Wisconsin to find the momentum they needed to keep playing hard. Junior Aaron Crandall started the game but was relieved after giving up three first-period goals. The Bulldogs were unable to play their fast-paced game and forced to dump and chase, taking away normal scoring opportunities that they’ve been able to create this year.
Wisconsin played the game they wanted to play from beginning. They pushed UMD into a panic, which caused the Bulldogs to play sloppy and turn the puck over in critical locations. The Badgers were able to capitalize by winning almost 75% of the night’s faceoffs, allowing them more puck possession, which in turn creates scoring chances. Defensively, Wisconsin played sound and Joel Rumpel only gave up one goal; a rebound he’d probably like to have back.
What I Thought
The Bulldogs failed to generate the offensive productivity they’ve been able to create in recent games. Scoring leaders like Mike Seidel and Tony Cameranesi were not allowed to display their talents because of the Badger defense. The Dogs needed to find the scoreboard early and beat Wisconsin to the punch, which didn’t happen. Although Duluth will need to replace the great senior class, they’ll look toward their talented freshman to develop and mature for next season.
The Badgers played their game. It was as simple as that. They scored when they had chances and their defense played tough. They came into the game with the momentum that they had left with the previous night. It’s not very often I feel as though a team that doesn’t score as much can be successful during post-season play, but the Badgers were able to bury a few pucks and establish defensive dominance, which is why they’re headed to the Final Five.
What They Said
Minnesota-Duluth coach Scott Sandelin said, “We gave up some easy goals early”, Sandelin explained, “(then) they clamped down defensively. All weekend they made it difficult offensively for us.”
Wisconsin coach Mike Eaves said, “The first period was the difference. We got that great start and it was just too big of a hole for them to climb out of.”
Wisconsin junior Jefferson Dahl said, “Every line was rolling at the beginning and getting shots at the net. To get the first one and then the next one too was pretty big for us.”
What Else You Should Know
The Bulldogs will lose seven seniors to graduation this spring, including Mike Seidel, who led the Dogs in goals this year with 17.
Badger defenseman Jake McCabe left the game during the second period and didn’t return. Eaves said it was a lower-body injury that he had just sustained during the game, although he was unaware of the severity of the injury.
Wisconsin won 40 of the 62 faceoffs, had 11 shots and a goal during their five powerplay chances, and killed off both of the man-advantage attempts they gave to UMD.