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MINNEAPOLIS — Senior Sarah Nurse scored one goal and assisted on two others in the third period to break open a tie game and propel Wisconsin to a third-consecutive WCHA playoff crown with a 4-1 defeat of Minnesota Duluth.
“Excited for the players,” coach Mark Johnson said. “It certainly was a team effort.”
Immediately after the conclusion of a Wisconsin (31-2-4) power play, Nurse got the puck to Jenny Ryan, who spotted Annie Pankowski alone in front for a redirected goal 33 seconds into the final frame to put the Badgers up 2-1.
“It started out with a great rush from Sarah,” Pankowski said. “She just spun around and found Jenny wide open in the slot. When you can connect on those little plays, it opens the game up a lot. We talked about going to the net in between periods, and I just put my head down and went and Jenny just put it right there.”
Later, while on a penalty kill, Nurse went in alone and slipped the puck in through the five-hole for a two-goal lead at 4:07.
“I saw [Mellissa] Channell pick up the puck and [Sidney Mckibbon] got herself open,” Nurse said. “She got herself into a great space and I knew if Sid got that puck and she could chip it in, then I’d be gone. She did a great job on the wall and chipped the puck to me.”
Nurse also had the primary assist on Pankowski’s second goal at 12:26 for the final 4-1 count.
Through the first two periods, the story was UMD (25-6-5) sophomore goalie Maddie Rooney, who was named the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player.
“I’m really honored,” she said. “This is all just an experience and to look forward to the national tournament. I know our win yesterday was huge and will take us into next weekend.”
Rooney stopped 42 of the first 43 shots through 40 minutes on the heels of her record-setting 62 saves in the semifinal, and set a WCHA Final Face-Off record with 112 stops for the weekend.
“Maddie kept us in it for a long time,” coach Maura Crowell said. “She played fantastic again. Kudos to Wisconsin for getting it done.”
“It seems like every goalie, every time she makes a great save and you don’t score, it tilts a little bit in their favor,” Pankowski said. “I’m proud of this team for pushing through that and finding a way to win the game.”
Even though it couldn’t take a lead into the second intermission, Wisconsin had the game moving in the right direction.
“That’s my message to the players — keep creating puck pressure, keep creating some turnovers and keep getting quality chances, because eventually, you hope the puck goes in,” Johnson said.
After playing deep into double overtime the previous night, UMD eventually wore down, particularly once it faced a deficit.
“We kind of lost it from there,” said Lara Stalder, who scored the game-winner in the semifinal. “Maybe the legs were a bit tired after that, but that’s no excuse.”
Even once the game slipped away, Rooney kept making plays, denying Nurse on another breakaway, and when Nurse later put a shot off the crossbar, Rooney had the awareness to trap the puck against her back and move it away from the crease.
“In the previous Wisconsin game, there was one off the post and I caught it behind my back,” Rooney said. “That one was something.”
Sidney Morin opened the scoring for Minnesota Duluth on a power play at 2:28 of the second period. Her shot from the point hit traffic and deflected into the net.
“Obviously, we were excited to get that goal,” Crowell said. “Unfortunately, it didn’t end up holding.”
The lead lasted just over nine minutes. McKibbon, stationed at the side of the crease, deflected Jenny Ryan’s shot on goal, and Rooney was able to block it with her pad. The rebound landed in the far side of the blue paint, and McKibbon won a puck battle with Jessica Healey and poked it home.
“Jenny Ryan made a really nice play, got the puck to the net, and I just tried to deflect it, get my stick on it, and then I spun around, and luckily, it went in the net,” McKibbon said.
Ultimately, it was just too much Badgers.
“Wisconsin played better, and they deserved the win,” Crowell said.
Joining Rooney on the All-Tournament team were teammates Stalder and Morin, plus Ryan, McKibbon, and Emily Clark of Wisconsin.
“It’s sad to lose that game, but we’re looking forward,” Stalder said.
Minnesota Duluth and Wisconsin will both host NCAA quarterfinals next weekend.