Posted-March 10th, 2012 12:20 am
DENVER -- Through his first 37 games as a Badger, Sean Little had exactly zero goals. The sophomore from Fond Du Lac, Wis., suddenly now has two tallies in his last four games, scoring one of the biggest goals of the season for the Badgers in the final minutes of Friday night’s game for a 1-0 win over Denver.
The victory gives Wisconsin (17-16-2, 11-15-2 WCHA) a 1-0 series advantage over Denver (21-12-4, 16-8-4 WCHA) in the opening round of the WCHA playoffs, with one more win needed to advance in the best-of-three series.
With 5:50 remaining in the 0-0 contest, freshman Jake McCabe (Eau Claire, Wis.) rushed up the left side, beat a DU defender, then cetered the puck. Little drove hard to the net and got the puck past DU goaltender Juho Olkinuora to snap the tie and lift Wisconsin to a narrow, but hard-fought victory.
Junior defenseman John Ramage (St. Louis) also collected an assist on the play.
The 1-0 victory comes with plenty of credit to freshman goalie Joel Rumpel (Swift Current, Saskatchewan) who saved 28 shots en route to his third shutout of the season. No freshman goalie at Wisconsin had ever before recorded three shutouts in a season.
Both teams found themselves in a defensive dead-lock through the first two periods despite a few prime opportunities. Just over six minutes into the first period, freshman Joseph LaBate (Eagan, Minn.) hit the post on a 4-on-2 UW opportunity. And with just over six minutes left in the second, McCabe made a diving steal to break up a promising Denver rush.
With the win, the Badgers are now 13-1-0 all-time in postseason play against the Pioneers.
For his part, Olkinuora collected 29 saves before he was pulled in the final 1:20 in favor of a sixth attacker.
Both teams failed to convert on the power play—the Badgers with three opportunities and the WCHA’s top power-play unit Denver with four.
The Pioneers won the shot advantage through the first two period 23-15, but Wisconsin outshot Denver 15-5 in the final period, and outshot DU 30-28 overall.
Wisconsin and Denver again face off Saturday night, with the puck dropping at 8 p.m. CST. With a win tomorrow night, the Badgers will advance to the WCHA Final Five next weekend in St. Paul, Minn.