Men's hockey

Two comebacks prove not enough for Badgers in 6-4 loss to Fighting Irish

Senior forward Will Johnson tied the game at four with a third period goal, but it wasn't enough to help the Badgers avoid defeat Friday night against Notre Dame.

Image By: Cameron Lane-Flehinger

Twice on Friday night Wisconsin fell behind against against Notre Dame, and twice it came charging back.

After Will Johnson poked in a rebound of his own shot with 12 minutes left in regulation to tie the game at four goals a side, it looked like the Badgers had managed to grab at least a tie from the jaws of defeat.

But the Fighting Irish weren’t done, and when forward Mike O’Leary put Notre Dame ahead for the night’s third time, it proved to be one lead the Badgers couldn’t erase. Wisconsin (4-4-3 Big Ten, 8-10-3 overall) ultimately fell 6-4 to Notre Dame (6-6-0, 13-8-1) in a game that threw new questions into the Badgers’ already unsteady goaltending situation.

“It’s two good teams going at it, we were going back and forth all game and at the end of the day they played their game longer than we played ours,” senior captain Peter Tischke said. “At the end of the day that’s what cost us.”

The play between the pipes was responsible for Wisconsin’s early deficit, as freshman goaltender Daniel Lebedeff allowed goals on two of the first three shots he faced to spot the Irish an early two-goal lead.

Wisconsin’s defenders did a good job of keeping the Irish off the shot chart in the first period, but proved inattentive at key moments. Notre Dame’s first goal came from an indirect pass off the end boards that Cam Burke was able to tap back to a wide-open Graham Slaggert in front of the net.

At one point in the first period the Badgers had outshot their opponent 11 to three, but still trailed by a pair on the scoreboard thanks to Slaggert’s tally and a power play strike from Michael Graham.

Faced with the early deficit, Wisconsin kept the pressure on Notre Dame goaltender Cale Morris and pieced together three goals in under 20 minutes of ice time to retake the lead.

The spark came first from freshman defenseman K’Andre Miller, who continued his run of improvisational goals by taking a deflection of his own two-on-one pass and putting it past Morris to cut the lead in half.

Freshman forward Roman Ahcan and sophomore Tarek Baker added two more early in the second period, and the Badgers appeared to take control of the game with a lead on the scoreboard and a healthy margin on the shot chart.

On the ropes, the Irish showed plenty of fight, and took advantage of some Wisconsin lapses to reclaim the lead on a pair of goals bookending the second intermission.

“There were times of the game where we were in control of it where we needed to find a way to get that next one,” head coach Tony Granato said. “Once the game looked easy for us we started to open it up too much and started to get away from some of the things we had done well.”

Wisconsin continued to battle, tying it up on Johnson’s third-period goal. But this time the Irish had an immediate answer. O’Leary’s game-winner stuck the final nail in the Badgers' coffin; after pouring in 35 shots on goal in 43 minutes, Wisconsin managed just two in seven minutes after falling behind the final time.

Friday’s contest goes down as yet another game in which the Badgers produced a performance that was — if not deserving of a win, at least good enough to get one — but came away with nothing to show for it.

“This one obviously hurts with how well we played,” Tischke said. “I think the guys are eager to get back on the ice on Sunday and give it our all for a full 60 [minutes].”

Adding injury to insult, Wisconsin lost Lebedeff midway through the third period after a skate caught him just below his mask on the fourth goal, leading to a cut and an immediate trip to the locker room. Granato was unable to confirm if Lebedeff would be available for Sunday’s game against Notre Dame at the United Center in Chicago.

Lebedeff’s potential injury only further muddies the waters for Wisconsin between the pipes. After allowing four goals on 16 shots on Friday night, Lebedeff’s season save percentage sits at .897, just ahead of junior Jack Berry’s .893. After Lebedeff had seemed to quell some of the ongoing concerns at the position with his strong early-season play, the Badgers are now faced with a battle between two underperforming goaltenders for the third consecutive season.

Puck drop for Sunday’s game in Chicago is 6:30 pm.

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