After battling all season to put themselves in a position to earn a bid to the NCAA Tournament, the Badgers deflated in front of the Kohl Center crowd, falling 3-1 and virtually ending their chance at an at-large berth.
“It’s disappointing. It’s not the way we wanted the weekend to go,” sophomore captain Luke Kunin said.
For the second straight night, the No. 16 Badgers (12-8-0-0 Big Ten, 19-14-1 overall) came out flat and didn’t generate nearly enough scoring chances or put enough pressure on the No. 15 Buckeyes (11-8-1-1, 20-10-6). Wisconsin struggled to even get the puck to goalkeeper Matt Tomkins, as the Buckeyes blocked 29 of Wisconsin’s 77 total shots. UW had fewer shots on goal, 28, than were blocked.
Josh Healey led the way with eight blocks of his own. On the other end of the ice, Wisconsin blocked just seven shots.
“Tonight was a night where whenever we got our chances, the other team was desperate on making sure they blocked shots, similar to the way we did against Minnesota a couple weeks back,” head coach Tony Granato said.
Junior forward Ryan Wagner, who led the Badgers in shots with four, said that the number of shots blocked was frustrating for a Wisconsin team that is used to being in control of that category.
“It’s pretty tough when they’re blocking a lot of shots,” he said. “You can’t really be giving them all those blocks like that because they build off that.”
And even when they did get their chances, Tomkins was again stellar, stopping 27 of the Badgers’ 28 shots.
“He was solid all weekend,” Granato said. “Especially against our power play when we did get quality chances, he made some big saves for them.”
Wisconsin managed to apply pressure in the third, but it was too little, too late. Kunin buried his 21st goal of the year with under nine minutes left after ringing one off the post in the second period.
Granato pulled freshman goalie Jack Berry with over two minutes left and UW trailing by two. The Badgers controlled the puck in the zone and had a couple chances, but Tomkins stood tall and the Buckeyes continued to lay out in front of shots.
“Again, we had to play catch-up and we didn’t have enough chances to be able to do that,” Granato said.
Wisconsin fell victim to a called-back goal in the third period as junior forward Matt Ustaski’s wrist shot from the wing, a blistering top-shelf snipe, was called back as Kunin was ruled offsides.
The Badgers responded better than they did Friday night, picking up the pressure and spending more time in their offensive zone, but ran out of time to lead a viable comeback.
Mason Jobst again killed the Badgers, scoring once and adding an assist after doing the same last night. He assisted on three goals in the first series against Wisconsin as well.
“Super talented, no question about that. He made the plays when they had the opportunities,” Granato said of Jobst.
Wisconsin, after opening the series at No. 13 in the PairWise rankings, dropped all the way to No. 18 after the sweep. The Badgers will most likely have to win the Big Ten Tournament, where they will be the No. 2 seed and have a first-round bye, to get into the NCAA Tournament for the first time in two years.
“Now we know what we have to do,” Wagner said. “We have to win two games to get to the tournament, and that’s what we’re gonna do.”