Wisconsin Badgers come out flat, can't climb out of early hole

Ryan Wagner and the Badgers were unable to sweep Michigan State this weekend.

Image By: Cameron Lane-Flehinger

Once the third period started, the Badgers were finally able to get their legs going. From the start of the final frame, the Badgers were pushing the puck up ice, creating shots on goal and crashing the net for rebounds. Still, the effort and attack during that period proved too little too late, as the lethargic No.16 Badgers (12-7-0-0 Big Ten, 19-13-1-0 overall) ultimately lost decidedly 5-1 against No. 15 Ohio State (10-8-1-1, 19-10-6-0).

Despite losing the third period 1-0, Wisconsin kept the puck in their offensive zone throughout the majority of the stanza. They created chances with their speed, put pucks on net and even rang iron midway through the frame.

“I thought the start of the third period was outstanding,” head coach Tony Granato said. “We had five or six glorious chances, hit a post and missed a couple empty nets.”

In fact, junior forward Ryan Wagner even scored a shorthanded goal that would have brought the game within two, and created some momentum for Wisconsin, had it not been called off for a fighting penalty behind the play.

“That was extremely deflating. I don’t know if I have ever seen that, an altercation behind the play blows down a clear breakaway, especially when the altercation was started by the defending team,” Granato said. “I was surprised he blew the whistle. He took away a great scoring chance and a big goal. We would have had plenty of time at that point had we scored that goal.”

Despite the effort and energy in the final 20 minutes, the Badgers ultimately dug themselves into too deep of a hole, as they looked inactive throughout the opening 40.

“We were uptight to start the game, we weren’t energized. We played cautious, different than we have played all year,” Granato said. “How we got here is by playing energized, confident and on the attack, and tonight we sat on our heels. We came too late. We were looking for a better start.”

Offensively, the Badgers struggled to create any genuine quality chances. For the majority of the opening two periods, Ohio State kept Wisconsin to the outside of the attacking zone, and the Badgers couldn’t get many pucks in tight in front of the Ohio State goalie.

“I don’t think we had enough energy and enough jump off the start of the game,” sophomore forward Luke Kunin said. “They were hungrier on some pucks. We can’t come out like that.”

Not only was the Badgers offense unable to generate opportunities, but also their defense struggled at times in the opening two periods. Too often, Wisconsin let Ohio State forwards use their speed to get behind their defense and create opportunities off the rush.

“They definitely were chipping pucks out and getting in races for it, and we didn’t necessarily do a bad job, but they got some breaks and were able to put some pucks in the net,” senior forward Grant Besse said. “Those breaks didn’t go our way.”

Ultimately, on both ends of the ice, the Badgers did not bring the necessary energy to keep up with a team that looked much more energized and active throughout the opening 40 minutes.

“We have worked so hard to get to this position of being a team that deserved to be in the tournament,” Granato said. “And tonight was our opportunity to step forward and solidify that and I thought we were a little bit nervous about that.”

Even with the poor performance in the opening portion of the game, the Badgers feel confident that they will come back and carry the momentum from the third period into the game tomorrow night.

“Tomorrow I’m expecting us to play a completely different game. Our guys have played great all year, and that’s why we’re in second place in a great conference, maybe the best conference in college hockey,” Granato said. “I think our team is going to play our best game of the year tomorrow.”

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