ANN ARBOR, Mich. — The No. 3 Wisconsin Badgers fell 1-5 to No. 14 Michigan on Friday in their largest scoring deficit of the season to date.
They’ll have a chance to fight back on Saturday as they face the Wolverines again for game two of the series.
When the teams met earlier this season in Madison, the Badgers scraped by with the sweep on game-winners scored in the dying embers of the third period in both games. They leaned heavily on contributions from their power play and special teams and were undoubtedly hoping those lines would show up big for them again.
Months later, the Badgers are second in the Big Ten while Michigan is fighting to stay in it at fifth. The Wolverines came into Friday 15 points behind Wisconsin and 19 points behind the Big Ten leader — the Michigan State Spartans.
With Friday’s defeat, the Badgers fell further behind the Spartans, who won a tough battle against the Minnesota Golden Gophers. While winning the conference is still within reach, Wisconsin’s loss and Michigan State’s win make the Badgers’ road to the Big Ten regular season championship harder.
Badgers not themselves in Ann Arbor
Michigan came in and dominated play for the first few minutes. Sustained pressure allowed them to get into a dangerous position and score. Badgers defenders did almost everything right, getting their stick on a pass in the lane. The redirect just happened to be to a wide-open Wolverine — Garret Schifsky — who took the one-on-one and beat McClellan on the glove-side top corner.
Although the Badgers gained some momentum as the period went on, a weak first power play and some physicality were not enough for goal. Wisconsin went into the first intermission trailing by one.
Period two was more evenly matched and both teams had good scoring opportunities. Despite that, the Badgers trailed 3-0 after the second, with their weirdest — and maybe unluckiest — goal allowed thus far this year. A puck that flew way up high and over the Badger defense came right down for Michigan’s Frank Nazar III to catch, shoot and rebound at a tight angle into the net.
The Wolverines' second goal of period two came without much surprise as the best power play in the country surmounted the Badgers' penalty killers. With 30 seconds to play in the second, an untouched pass came right in front of the crease for Michigan’s Tyler Duke to one-time past McClellan.
The Badgers found precisely what they talked about in the locker room before the third period. Just a minute in, Michigan blocked a good shot on the goal line and Jack Horbach was in the right position to tuck in the rebound. That momentum would be short-lived, as Wolverines’ Nazar III scored his second goal of the night minutes later.
“We needed to find a way to get it back to a manageable lead, and we got it to 3:1,” Hastings told The Daily Cardinal after the game. “The goal was to get a goal in the first five minutes [of the third]. The guys did a good job, had a couple good looks after that, then gave up a d-zone coverage that put them right back where they were.”
Michigan sealed the deal with an empty net goal late in the third to put the game away at 5-1. At five goals, it’s the most the Badgers allowed in a single game this season.
Special teams, defense left behind in Madison
The Badgers' power play looked significantly better in the games leading up to Friday. However, the Badgers had nothing to show for it. Their first two power plays were riddled with turnovers and mistakes, with the second failing to produce a shot on goal.
The Badgers were finally clicking in their third power play. But with 46 seconds to go, the Badgers gave up a penalty to cut it short and give Michigan their own 1:14 power play, all while still trailing.
The Badger's fourth and final power play would be their best, partly due to pulling their goaltender and getting the extra attacker out on the ice.
“We need to get to the net a little bit more and stay there. They did a good job getting us to the outside and defending,” Hastings said. “Our power play’s got to be better… more threatening, we gotta get some momentum off that. That’s been the difference: the special teams.”
The Badgers' penalty kill, defense and goaltending typically punctuate their games. They outshot Michigan 43 to 31 but still failed to find a scoring offense on Friday. That playstyle didn’t look like the same Badgers that have been winning games all season long.
“I’ll take less shots and more goals,” Hastings said. “We wanna give [Barczewski] credit, but we gotta do a better job of getting inside. We had some good opportunities we didn’t finish.”
Wisconsin will try to find a way to crack through the Michigan defense and regain their footing Saturday when the puck drops at 7 p.m. for game two.
Ian Wilder is a senior staff writer and current men’s hockey beat reporter for The Daily Cardinal. He’s a former state politics and features reporter. Follow him on Twitter at @IanWWilder.