Wisconsin was riding high, up 5-0 in the second game of their first-round series against Minnesota State and less than 10 minutes away from completing the sweep.
Then Sarah Nurse got hit late and high by Minnesota State’s Demi Gardner, and as the senior forward lay in the fetal position on the ice, what had looked seconds earlier to be a sure win suddenly seemed like it might come with a loss.
Ultimately the No. 1 Badgers (22-2-4 WCHA, 29-2-4 overall) did come away with a 6-0 victory over the Mavericks (4-21-3, 7-26-4) to extend their 17-game unbeaten streak and secure a spot in the WCHA semifinal behind six goals from their top line of Nurse and junior forwards Annie Pankowski and Emily Clark.
“Emily had good energy, good speed; that’s as fast as she’s probably played all year. Sarah was the same way,” head coach Mark Johnson said. “When you look at the score sheet and you see the number of times they were on it, generally we’re gonna win those hockey games.”
Clark opened the scoring just 32 seconds into game as she burst past Minnesota State defenseman Anna Keys and turned the corner before slotting the puck past MSU’s Chloe Crosby.
The top line continued to pepper the net throughout the first period as Crosby struggled to control rebounds in just her fifth career start. Nurse was the next Badger to find the back of the net, as she roofed a puck past Crosby’s blocker that the freshman goaltender never had a chance at stopping.
The early pressure was a point of emphasis for the Badgers after they failed to score in the first period of last night’s 7-0 win, and it’s been a indicator of success for Wisconsin so far this year in their games against top-level teams.
“Coach always says the first eight or 10 minutes is the most important of the game, and it definitely adds to our success when we can get one early like that,” Clark said.
Clark finished the game with a pair of goals, while Nurse tallied a hat-trick before being helped off the ice by a pair of teammates. After the game, Johnson had no update on the senior’s status.
The day after committing a season-high nine penalties, the Badgers were sent to the box another three times, including a slashing penalty on Baylee Wellhausen that put the Badgers on a 3-on-5 penalty kill for the second straight game.
Wisconsin’s penalty kill held strong, allowing only one shot in five minutes and 22 seconds of shorthanded time. During their unbeaten streak, the Badgers have allowed only two power-play goals, and now rank second in the country in penalty killing.
“Typically, when you get that many penalties, it could be the difference between winning and losing,” said Clark. “Moving forward, even if it’s not our discipline but they’re actually calling it a little bit tighter, we have to be aware of that.”
Senior goaltender Ann-Renée Desbiens stopped all 15 of the Mavericks shots for her NCAA-leading 15th shutout of the season.
With the win, the top-ranked Badgers will now travel to Minnesota for the WCHA Final Face-Off next weekend, where they will play the lowest remaining seed in the semifinals. Puck drop is scheduled for 2 p.m. Saturday, March 4.