UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. – As overtime wound down, it felt like déjà vu for the Wisconsin men’s hockey team. Playing Penn State, the team that dashed their postseason at-large hopes with a late-season upset last year, the Nittany Lions looked poised to derail the Badgers’ Big Ten title hopes.
Thanks to Mark Zengerle (Rochester, N.Y.), the familiar script had a surprise ending, as the senior took a long pass from Joe Faust (Bloomington, Minn.), fed a streaking Nic Kerdiles (Irvine, Calif.) and then finished the return pass with 20.3 seconds left in overtime to preserve UW’s conference championship hopes with a 3-2 win.
Entering the night trailing Minnesota by seven points in the conference race, the Badgers (21-9-2, 12-5-1-0 Big Ten) would have been eliminated from the conference chase with a Gopher victory in regulation. That didn’t happen, as Ohio State topped UM in a shootout to keep the Badgers alive – if they could earn three points against Penn State (6-24-2, 2-15-1-0 Big Ten).
They almost didn’t.
Wisconsin led 2-1 as the clock wound down in the third period, but Kenny Brooks’ innocent-looking centering pass from behind the goal ticked off the skate of Jake McCabe (Eau Claire, Wis.), past UW goalie Joel Rumpel (Swift Current, Saskatchewan) and into the Wisconsin net to tie the score at 2-2 with 2:46 left in regulation.
Neither team found any separation until Zengerle finally connected to break the tie with seconds left in overtime.
The Badgers started the game on their heels, playing an amped-up Nittany Lion team that continued its trend of playing significantly better on the second nights of series.
UW survived the early onslaught, however, the Badgers battled back and nudged ahead, 1-0, courtesy of Keegan Meuer (Madison, Wis.). The senior put Wisconsin ahead 9:01 into the first period, taking a cross-ice pass from Eddie Wittchow (Burnsville, Minn.) and finishing from the right circle after the Badgers forced a PSU turnover.
The lead would be short-lived, as Penn State struck back 66 seconds later on the power play when David Glen’s nifty, no-look pass found Casey Bailey all alone at the left circle. He beat a diving Rumpel to even the score at 1-1.
It would stay that way until Kerdiles answered with a highlight-reel goal of his own, finishing a break with a between-the-legs, top-shelf score off a feed from Zengerle. The short-handed goal looked to be the difference in the game before Brooks tied the score and Zengerle got the final word.
It was the third-straight road win for the Badgers and their fifth win in a row overall.
Rumpel improved to 18-4-1, making 41 saves on 43 shots. Matthew Skoff, his PSU counterpart, finished with 23 stops on 26 UW tries.
Wisconsin finished 0-4 on the power play, while Penn State went 1-5.
The win means the Badgers will enter the season’s final weekend five points behind conference-leading Minnesota. The Badgers would clinch the Big Ten title with a road sweep of Michigan State and a pair of Minnesota road losses to Michigan.
The Badgers will cap their regular season with a pair of games next weekend in East Lansing, Mich., against the Spartans. Friday’s game is set for 6 p.m. and Saturday’s contest will start at 3 p.m.