The Wisconsin Badgers men’s hockey team defeated the Notre Dame Fighting Irish 4-2 Friday and 3-2 Saturday at home to claim a season series sweep.
Game one looked shaky for the Badgers from the start. They traded opportunities in the first period, but Notre Dame found the first goal with a bad bounce off a linesman giving the Irish’s Hunter Strand an odd-man rush goal. Notre Dame increased its lead to two toward the end of the period as Tyler Carpenter won a battle for the puck in front of the crease and scored.
The Badgers stopped the bleeding in the second period but failed to convert on a five-minute major penalty after Zach Plucinski was sent off for grabbing an opponent's face mask. A goal from Mathieu De St. Phalle on the resulting power play was disallowed for an offside on the zone entry.
The Badgers chipped away at Notre Dame’s goaltender Ryan Bischel for the rest of the second, and they were rewarded for their effort. Christian Fitzgerald showed off his blistering speed in a 2-on-1 to beat Bischel on the pad side with 38 seconds left in the period.
The Badgers weren't done. Just 15 seconds later, Bischel saved a shot from Anthony Kehrer, but alternate captain David Silye put the rebound in the net from a tight angle along the goal line.
“We stayed positive, which I liked,” Silye said after game one. “It took until the end of the second period to crack them, but we stayed with it.”
The intermission wasn’t enough to cool the Badgers’ momentum. In his first game back from an extended injury, Cruz Lucius drove into the offensive zone and threaded the needle on a pass for Silye to tuck in.
“David and Cruz have some chemistry,” Badgers head coach Mike Hastings said in a press conference after game one. “If you pull them apart in a period, it's amazing how they start looking at you more often, like, ‘Hey, can I get back with my buddy?’”
Carson Bantle sealed the deal with an empty net goal later in the period. The Badgers pieced together four unanswered goals to take down the Fighting Irish 4-2.
“This group has shown they're gonna play to the bell, and they did tonight,” Hastings said. “There were a lot of opportunities to maybe pitch that tendency that ‘tonight’s not our night’ but guys didn't [give in].”
Owen Lindmark — who skated off injured late in the second period Friday — didn’t start Saturday. Brady Cleveland, who’d also just come off an injury, also didn’t start. Sawyer Scholl and Owen Mehlenbacker took their places in the lineup.
The Badgers took an early lead in game two. William Whitelaw jumped to a deflected puck that landed in the slot and scored Bischel one-on-one. Neither team produced offense in the second despite trading chances, and Wisconsin took a narrow 1-0 lead into the third period.
Defenses and goaltenders finally give way to some goals in the third period. Notre Dame opened the third period scoring on the power play as on a rebound from Landon Slaggert, tying the game at one.
“I thought we defended our tails off tonight,” Hastings said after game two. “Kind of a crazy game there in the third period with what happened, but at the end of the day I thought the guys showed some composure.”
Wisconsin responded with its first power-play goal of the series despite 10 power play opportunities. Scholl scored on the wraparound as the goaltender was intertwined with a Badger. Officials confirmed the Wisconsin player had been pushed into the crease and the goal stood.
Notre Dame pulled their goaltender on a 4-on-4 later in the period and got back within one, but the Badgers held them off to take the game 3-2.
“I liked our mental stability,” Hastings said. “Control what you can control and if something bad just happened you can't change it; if something good just happened you better focus on the next opportunity that you have.”
Consistency is key
A sweep is always important, but the Badgers need to find a way to play more consistently across three periods of a hockey game. The Badgers’ Achilles heel right now is the power play. When it’s clicked, it’s helped them win games; when it hasn’t, it’s cost them games, which it almost did this series.
Likewise, the Badgers need to put full performances together. Their offense looked unsure at times and only fired for one or two periods of either game. As the playoffs creep up in six games, it’s key they find a way to put together more complete performances.
The Badgers now head on a four-game road series where they’ll play two games against Ohio State followed by a series at Penn State. Wisconsin will return to Madison for its final regular season series against the Michigan State Spartans on March 1 and 2.
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.