The Wisconsin Badgers collected their second league win of the season by triumphing over the Minnesota-Duluth Bulldogs in a 2-1 overtime thriller Friday night at the Kohl Center in Madison. Excluding an exhibition with Team Italy, the victory was the Badgers’ first at home since mid-October.
Brad Winchester collected his sixth goal of the season at 2:22 in the extra period, extending Minnesota-Duluth’s dismal streak of 11 straight overtimes without a win.
Halfway through overtime Wisconsin’s Rene Bourque forced a turnover and managed a pass to teammate Alex Leavitt, setting up a 2-on-1 for the Badgers. Leavitt tallied his team-leading 13th assist, sending a cross-ice pass to Winchester. Though slipping, Winchester managed to get off a blistering shot that beat Reichmuth, bringing the entire UW bench onto the ice in celebration.
The game marked the first win for Wisconsin (8-12-3, 2-8-3 WCHA) in five overtimes.
“It was just nice for our team to get a neutral-zone turnover and get a break for once,” Bourque said. “It was a big win for us.”
“We couldn’t have scripted it any better,” UW coach Mike Eaves said.
Despite boasting the top team defense in the WCHA, Minnesota-Duluth was not able to beat a Wisconsin team that has struggled offensively all year and dwells at the bottom of the league ranks.
“We don’t feel like a last-place team or that our record is that bad,” Eaves said. “We feel like we’ve played some good hockey.”
Friday’s match featured two highly-regarded goaltenders in Isaac Reichmuth and Scott Kabotoff. UMD freshman Reichmuth, the second-rated netminder in the WCHA and league leader in save percentage, finished the game with 18 saves and two goals against. His opponent, UW’s Kabotoff (30 saves, one goal), came through with a stellar performance and carried the Badgers on his back for a large part of the contest.
“[Kabotoff] made the saves he should have, and he made some unbelievable saves,” Eaves said. “There have been nights where he’s made some saves that he shouldn’t have, but he let ones in that he should have, so tonight was a complete game for him; best of the year by far.”
Both goalies made impressive saves throughout the night, frustrating the offenses. Midway through the first, Kabotoff braved a 2-on-1 and made a timely kick-save that foiled one of the Bulldogs’ best scoring chances of the night.
Said Winchester, “[Kabotoff] really was the reason why we won tonight.”
UMD threatened to score early on in the first when T.J. Caig found a clear shooting lane from the left side of the net. Caig did not get all of the puck on his shot, however, and missed the net entirely.
After a scoreless first period in which the defenses took control, the Badgers opened up scoring midway through the second with a goal from John Eichelberger. Wisconsin would take this 1-0 lead to the second intermission.
Minnesota-Duluth (9-8-4, 5-5-3 WCHA) rallied in the third period and tied the game only a few minutes in. Both teams then shifted towards the offensive and came close to scoring on numerous occasions.
Over halfway into the third period the Bulldogs crowded the Badger goal and let loose an offensive barrage. The siren went off behind the net indicating a UMD goal before the referees waved the score off.
UW’s close call came with a little over two minutes remaining, when an Eichelberger shot slid past Reichmuth. The puck, however, came to a rest on the goal line, where an alert defender swatted it away.
The Bulldogs had not won a game after trailing at the second intermission in almost three years, and Friday’s battle was to be no different. Despite a praiseworthy effort on the part of UMD, Wisconsin struck first in sudden death to come away with a 2-1 victory.
The power play units were ineffectual, with little offense during the man advantage. Minnesota-Duluth did not allow Wisconsin much time on the power play, committing no penalties past the first period. Conversely, UW racked up eight minutes on the penalty kill in the same span, though managing to prevent any goals in the process.
John Funk assisted Eichelberger’s first goal by threading a pass across the crease to set up the one-timer. Eichelberger redirected the puck into the net an instant before Reichmuth was in position to defend the shot.
Minnesota-Duluth tied the game courtesy of an unassisted goal from Caig. Caig came from the right side of the net and took a well-aimed slapshot that beat the glove of Kabotoff to the top shelf.
Minnesota-Duluth is the only WCHA team the Badgers have beaten this year. The Bulldogs will look to split the series, and their season record against Wisconsin, in the series finale tomorrow night in Madison.