DULUTH, Minn.—Wisconsin's keys to victory coming into their series with Minnesota-Duluth were pretty simple: Use good goaltending and strong defense to contain the No. 9 Bulldogs' top line of Mike Connolly, Jack Connolly and Justin Fontaine, and pressure the Duluth goal with a relentless shooting attack.
That is exactly what the No. 2 Badgers did Friday night, but failed to do Saturday against Duluth, resulting in a strong 5-2 win in the series opener but a lifeless 4-0 loss in the finale.
It was one week after taking three points from No. 3 Denver and one day after defeating the Bulldogs in one of their better performances of the year. But with a chance to claim the top spot in the national rankings and WCHA standings, Wisconsin put in its worst game of the season by far on Saturday.
Head coach Mike Eaves praised the team's ability to make Bulldog goalie Kenny Reiter work Friday night, but said the Badgers ""never got any rhythm"" the next night.
""The message to the boys is that, because it's a small rink, just get everything at the net, you never know,"" Eaves said Friday. ""They listened and they executed and they did get pucks at the net.""
Eaves' assessment was an understatement: the Badgers kept Reiter busy, firing 52 shots and creating plenty of opportunities. But what was true of Friday was the opposite Saturday – the Wisconsin offense was outshot 31-28 and could not create scoring chances after falling behind early.
""We didn't do a very good job of getting shots, getting bodies to the net,"" senior forward Ben Street said. ""That's just not going to get it gone.""
The disparity in scoring between those two games was also true of the Badgers' goaltending and defense, which did well Friday but struggled Saturday. Junior goaltender Scott Gudmandson made a number of impressive saves and the Wisconsin defense shut down the Bulldogs late in the opener, allowing just five shots on goal in the third period.
The result of that strong effort was that Connolly, Connolly and Fontaine—the WCHA's top three scorers—combined for zero points Friday night. Having shut down Duluth's top line, the Badgers used their depth to wear down the Bulldogs and eventually put the game out of reach.
""All four lines can go out and play and it really helps on keeping our pace up all the way throughout the game while other teams tire out,"" said senior forward John Mitchell, who scored Wisconsin's first goal of the game.
Before Saturday's game, however, Duluth head coach Scott Sandelin mixed up his top three, moving Fontaine down to the third line and bringing sophomore forward David Grun up. The change clearly worked, as Fontaine and the Connollys combined for five points, including what proved to be the game-winner 1:15 into the first period, a soft shot from Fontaine that junior goaltender Brett Bennett would probably like to have back.
Fontaine's goal was the start of a tough, if short, night for Bennett, who gave up two goals on just three shots in his worst outing of the year.
""Obviously I wasn't prepared for tonight,"" Bennett said.
""I've got to get better, I've got to mentally prepare better—I know I can play at this level, I know I can play better, I just have to show it,"" he added. ""I didn't give my team a chance to win.""