Michigan jumped out to a 2-0 lead and never looked back Friday night, depositing ninth-ranked Wisconsin, 3-1 in front of a sold out crowd at Yost Ice Arena in Ann Arbor.
The Badgers played without their second and third leading goal scorers in the series opener. Nic Kerdiles missed his fifth consecutive game after separating his shoulder Jan. 4, and Tyler Barnes missed his first after crashing into the boards last Saturday in a loss against Ohio State.
Wisconsin (14-8-1, 5-4-0-0 Big Ten) had plenty of chances in the early going, but those seemed to dwindle as the game went along.
"We didn't have enough tonight," UW head coach Mike Eaves said after the game. "We didn't have enough guys step up with guys missing in our lineup to get the job done."
The Badgers dominated large stretches of the opening stanza, but a goal from Tyler Motte 13 minutes into the period changed the momentum in the direction of the Wolverines (13-6-2, 5-2-0-0 Big Ten).
That slight momentum swing turned into a tidal wave in favor of Michigan just a minute later, when a sequence of events changed the entire landscape of the game.
With the Wolverines up by a goal, Wisconsin center Mark Zengerle threaded a pass out front to Sean Little who had not one, but two good cracks all alone out front at the Michigan net.
UM goaltender Zach Nagelvoort stood tall, however, and the Wolverines led transition the other way. Freshman JT Compher was able to thread a pass to a streaking Alex Guptill, who speed through the Wisconsin defense and beat goaltender Joel Rumpel on a breakaway.
The change of events was a crippling blow for the Badgers, who never recovered after that.
"I put that in the net, which, probably 99 percent of the world could have done, it's a 1-1 game," Little said after the game. "Instead, they get an odd-man rush and it's a 2-0 game.
"So, yeah, that was a big turning point."
Michigan would take a 3-0 lead in the middle of the second period when Zach Hyman got loose on the back door and was able to slip a rebound past Rumpel.
Despite the loss, Rumpel seemed to be one of Wisconsin's better players with 31 saves on the night.
"He gave us a chance to stay in the game -- he was good," Eaves said.
A second period bouncing goal that was credited to Joseph LaBate was all the offense the Badgers could finish on the rest of the night. Breakaways from Zengerle and Michael Mersch went unconverted in the third, and the Wolverines were able to hold on for the 3-1 win.
"I think bottom line, we just didn't win enough battles tonight -- they were the better team," Little said.
Kerdiles not being in the lineup was somewhat of a surprise considering he made the trip to Ann Arbor. Eaves said after the game he was close, but they weren't comfortable with inserting him in the lineup just yet.
"Not quite ready," Eaves said. "In this building, you want to make sure he's going to have a legitimate chance of playing and not re-injuring himself, that's the biggest concern."
When asked if there was a a chance Kerdiles could go tomorrow, Eaves hinted at the sophomore center making his long awaited return.
"You know what, he is (playing) in my mind," Eaves said. "He's going to skate tomorrow (morning), and we'll talk with (trainer) Andy (Hrodey), we'll talk to Nic -- look in his eyes, and make a decision."
With Minnesota dropping a shootout loss at home to Michigan Sate in the late game, the Badgers squandered a prime opportunity to make up ground in the Big Ten standings Friday.
"Hopefully we learn from our loss from tonight and move forward," Eaves said. "Come back, do more of the little things we need to do to win tomorrow night."
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