With an at-large berth to the NCAA tournament out of the picture, and little chance of capturing home-ice advantage for the first round of the Big Ten tournament, Wisconsin’s men’s hockey team entered Columbus for its final series of the regular season looking to recapture some momentum after a deflating home finale.
After a pair of four-goal beatdowns at the hands of No. 6 Ohio State (14-8-2 Big Ten, 21-8-5 overall), the Badgers (14-17-4, 8-13-3) have acquired plenty of momentum — that of a stone dropped from a cliff, rather than a team surging into the postseason.
Wisconsin started the weekend off strong, and took it to the heavily-favored Buckeyes for the first 40 minutes of Friday’s game. The Badgers outshot OSU 28-16 in the first two periods, including a decisive 15-6 advantage in the first. Goals by freshman forward Linus Weissbach and junior forward Matthew Freytag sent the visitors to the locker room looking to protect a slim 2-1 lead for the final 20 minutes.
They couldn’t even manage three minutes.
A power play goal from Tanner Laczynski just under two minutes into the third period tied it up a two apiece, and Dakota Joshua’s second tally of the game 41 seconds later put the Buckeyes ahead for good. From there the rout was well and truly on, as Ohio State scored an astonishing five third-period goals to bury the Badgers and any thought of momentum with a 6-2 defeat.
"We just stopped playing our game,” senior goaltender Kyle Hayton said to UWBadgers.com. “I don't know if we just took it off, I couldn't tell you. It's happened a few times here, where we go in with a lead and blow it. We just have to play smarter hockey and string together a full 60 minutes.”
The poor play was exacerbated by several penalties, which lead to five power plays for the Buckeyes in the third period alone. Even though only one of OSU’s goals came on the man-advantage, the constant penalty killing left Wisconsin’s best skaters trapped in its own defensive zone and unable to muster the energy to come forwards when it was out of the box.
"It started with the penalties,” senior forward Ryan Wagner said to UWBadgers.com. “They capitalized, which has been a big part of this year with changing of momentum. I think after that we kind of just broke down. Everyone tried to do it themselves or look for someone else to do it."
Things didn’t get any better for Wisconsin in Saturday’s rematch. The Badgers once again skated with the Buckeyes for most of the game but were similarly buried by another scoring outburst, this time three second-period goals that put the game out of reach. Star forward Mason Jobst broke the tie shortly before the halfway mark of the game and added a shorthanded tally minutes later to put OSU up 2-0 before Christian Lampasso made it 3-0 with 28 minutes to play.
That wasn’t enough time for the Badgers, who had numerous scoring chances throughout the game but couldn’t bury a single one against Buckeye netminder Tommy Nappier. Lampasso added an empty-net goal in the closing moments for the 4-0 final score; the ninth consecutive goal Ohio State had scored in the series, all in only four periods.
"You can be negative about it. Or you can look at it and say it's a new season,” senior captain Cameron Hughes said to UWBadgers.com. “We're not going to dwell on it, no one is feeling sorry for us. At the end of the day we're confident in ourselves and we don't really care if anyone else is.”
With the regular season completed, Wisconsin will now head to Ann Arbor for a three-game series against Michigan in the first round of the Big Ten tournament.