(photo courtesy BadgerNation.com)
Something had to give between the 2nd ranked offense and the 5th ranked defense in the country as No. 16 Wisconsin and No. 13 Nebraska-Omaha squared off on Friday night. It just had to, right?
Instead, what gave in this one was UNO's defense and Wisconsin's power play defense as the Badgers won a wild one, 4-3, over the Mavericks in Omaha.
Wisconsin's usually stingy penalty kill unit was anything but that, allowing two goals on the night on four opportunities. However, Brendan Woods' goal with just 1:42 remaining in the game bailed that unit out big time.
His goal secured a huge two points for the Badgers as they try to keep pace and win home ice advantage in the WCHA playoffs.
"They are huge, they are really huge," said Brendan Woods following the game. "If you look at the standings in the WCHA, everyone is up tight, close. Home ice is huge and that's what we are looking for right now."
The back and forth battle was just par for the course though as every time the Mavericks scored the Badgers had an answer for them and that made all the difference.
It was Wisconsin drawing first blood thanks to a sharp shot and follow up by Mark Zengerle, who put home his own rebound at the 3:08 mark of the 1st period. The goal was Zengerle's 7th of the season with the assist going to Nic Kerdiles (12).
That goal didn't hold up long as one of the nation's best sharp shooters, Ryan Walters, used some finesse and went unchecked towards Rumpel – getting him to commit and slotting the puck home on a virtually empty net at the 7:45 mark of the 1st. Walter's 20th goal of the season, moving him into 2nd place nationally in points.
It appeared that shortly after that goal the Mavericks would go up 2-1, but James Polk was called for goaltender interference and the goal was waved off.
One would think that meant that UNO was getting the better of the chances, however it was Wisconsin that actually led the way offensively, outshooting the Mavericks 11-6 in the 1st period of action.
UNO would come out swinging in the 2nd period, but once again they would run into a Badgers defense equal to the challenge. While the defense was frustrating one of the nation's best offenses it was UW taking advantage of their opportunities on the other end.
Michael Mersch made it 2-1 Badgers with is 18th goal of the season as he worked hard in front of the net and slotted one past UNO netminder Ryan Massa at the 9:02 mark.
Following that goal the Mavericks seemed to wake up and put a ton of pressure on the Badgers, but to their credit they didn't crack and Rumpel showed why he's been in tremendous form as of late – stopping all nine shots faced in the 2nd period on his way to stopping 24 of 27 shots on the night.
Things settled down a bit, but these two offense's couldn't be held down long as the 3rd period saw a ton of action.
Wisconsin had done a great job of holding down the UNO power play, killing off the first two penalties of the game. However, the nation's 2nd best offense couldn't be held down forever.
Nic Kerdiles would go to the sin bin for boarding and UNO pounced, tying the game up at 2-2 on a power play goal by Bryce Aneloski at the 5:25 mark of the 3rd period. It was simply a rifle shot that Rumpel had zero chance of seeing, let alone stopping.
However, it took all of 22 seconds for the Badgers to re-take the lead as Joseph LaBate redirected a nice pass from Michael Mersch for his 6th goal of the season and 3-2 Wisconsin lead.
The action was just getting started though as the Badgers would have to kill off another penalty thanks to a tripping call on Frankie Simonelli at 9:21 of the period. Once again the usually stingy penalty kill couldn't do it and the game was tied up on Andrej Sustr's 8th goal of the season at 11:07 of the period.
O.k., so things were done, right? Well, it appeared that way as both teams traded a few nice chances, but nothing going in. However Woods changed that with some great effort and a nice blast from in front of the net, going high glove for the game winner.
Wisconsin will face the Mavericks tomorrow night at 7pm at CenturyLink Center as they look to keep pace with the Pioneers of Denver, who won 2-0 over Minnesota tonight at Marriuci Arena in Minneapolis.