EAST LANSING, Mich. – Just minutes after a disappointing overtime loss on Friday, Wisconsin men’s hockey coach Mike Eaves returned to the locker room to find his team already looking forward to a chance at redemption on Saturday. It got it—barely—thanks to four first-period goals that enabled it to hold on to a 4-3 win over Michigan State in the final game of the regular season.
How hot were the Badgers (22-10-2, 13-6-1-0 Big Ten) in the opening period? With two minutes left in the first frame, Wisconsin had twice as many goals (four) as MSU (11-17-7, 5-9-6-4 Big Ten) had shots on goal.
UW was able to build the commanding advantage even after Mark Zengerle (Rochester, N.Y.) was give a five-minute major and ejected for checking from behind early in the period.
One game after allowing the Spartans to score three goals on three power plays, Wisconsin held MSU without a shot on goal in the five-minute span.
As it turned out, they’d need each and every one of those four goals to survive an uneven performance in the second and third periods and hold off a hard-charging Spartan squad.
The Badgers got goals from four different players in the first period, as Nic Kerdiles’ power-play goal on a slapshot from the point just 2:55 in was followed in quick succession by Gavin Hartzog (Pewaukee, Wis.), Sean Little (Fond du Lac, Wis.) and Grant Besse (Plymouth, Minn.) tallies later in the frame.
Hartzog, making his season debut for the injured Jake McCabe (Eau Claire, Wis.), earned his first goal since he scored on Alabama Huntsville on Oct. 15, 2010. Besse scored the first road goal of his career.
But the Spartans responded after their first period struggles, systematically slicing into the Badger lead over the final two periods.
After a fortuitous deflection allowed Matt Berry’s shot to cut UW’s lead to 4-1, the Spartans scored again to head to the third period down just 4-2. They could have been even closer, but Joe Cox couldn’t convert on a penalty shot.
Villiam Haag made the Badgers sweat it out when he cut through the UW defense and beat Joel Rumpel (Swift Current, Saskatchewan) top shelf to make it a one-goal game with 14:35 to play.
They would come no closer, as Rumpel and the Wisconsin defense buckled down and prevented the equalizer.
Rumpel finished with 29 saves on 32 shots, while MSU’s Will Yanakeff turned away 18 of Wisconsin’s 22 offerings.
The Badgers finished 1-for-2 on the power play, while MSU went 1-for-2.
The Badgers finish the season second in the Big Ten, and will get a first round bye before taking on the winner of the Michigan-Penn State game at 2 p.m. on Friday afternoon in the semifinals of the 2014 Big Ten Tournament. The event takes place at Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, Minn.