MADISON -- It was a showcase of the Wisconsin's freshman phenoms as Annie Pankowski scored two goals and Emily Clark scored one to lead the Badgers over Boston University in the NCAA quarterfinal match at LaBahn Arena on Saturday afternoon.
With the decisive win, Wisconsin earned its eighth ever berth in the Frozen Four. The Badgers lost to Minnesota in a semifinal last season.
The win on Saturday was Wisconsin's fifth win over BU in program history.
There was a good crowd in the LaBahn, with pep bands from both schools and a large, vocal crowd lending to a raucous atmosphere.
"I thought the atmosphere for women’s hockey today was outstanding," Wisconsin coach Mark Johnson said. "There was a lot of energy, there was a lot of electricity."
The teams were evenly matched through the opening 10 minutes as Boston University pushed the pace. The result was a manic trading of possession and shots with neither team really able to settle in or find a rhythm.
The Badgers got on the board less than three minutes in when Pankowski snuck behind the defense on a line change and sophomore Mellissa Channell hit her in stride. Pankowski went to the net unchallenged and used some pretty puck handling to beat Terrier goalie Victoria Hanson on the glove side to give the Badgers a 1-0 lead.
Courtesy of Jashvina Shah, here's a Vine of Pankowski's first goal:
The Badgers went on the penalty kill almost immediately after Pankowski's goal, but their nation-leading penalty kill combined with a huge glove save from sophomore goalie Ann-Renée Desbiens to keep the Terriers off the board and allowed Wisconsin to hold the edge and momentum.
Scoring early helped the Badgers set the tone of the game.
"I think that’s always a goal that we have is to put our best foot forward and just kind of set the pace from the start of the game," Pankowski said. "I think we did that in this game for sure in the first five minutes. We took it to them and kind of showed them that they didn’t belong on the ice with us.
"We put a good foot forward and we just kept coming in waves and waves, and we tried not to let the energy fall too low on the bench."
Wisconsin found its game in the second half of the first period, doubling its shot total and holding BU to just a couple. Senior Katarina Zgraja doubled the Badgers' lead on a long-distance shot from just in front of the blue line that went through traffic and got past Hanson.
Here's a Vine of Zgraja's goal:
The second period was all Wisconsin. The accelerated pace of the first period, combined with the Badgers holding possession on the BU end for an extended period where BU wasn't able to change lines, really seemed to be the game-changer.
BU coach Brian Durocher said his team looked to escape the second period with just a two-goal deficit and an unlucky bounce off a defenseman's stick from a long-distance shot by Pankowski made it 3-0 with about four minutes to go.
Sophomore Emily Clark made it 4-0 before the period expired when freshman Baylee Wellhausen muscled a puck away from a BU defender and fed her. Clark had her right side to the net and she turned and wristed the shot how on her pivot.
Sophomore Jenny Ryan concluded the scoring for the Badgers when her tip dribbled past Hanson. It was senior Blayre Turnbull who put a long shot on net for Ryan to redirect.
The Terriers managed to end the shutout late in the game when freshman Victoria Bach slipped home a wrap-around. Despite that, Desbiens had a strong game in net, coming up big whenever BU threatened.
"I think it was a great team effort," she said. "Every single player did their best to back check and make sure we contain those couple amazing players on their team. It was a big team effort. We made sure to pressure them and not give them any space, so that’s what made us successful."
In the end, Wisconsin outmatched BU in speed and physicality, neutralizing the Terriers' top line in a way most their opponents haven't been able to accomplish all season.
Marie Philip Poulin was held to just one shot on goal. BU doesn't have the line-depth the Badgers do, so when the top line was held in check, it was a chance for the freshman line of Pankowski, Clark and Wellhausen to excel.
Durocher gave a lot of credit to the Badgers.
"They did make our big line look somewhat average today and that’s not easy to do.," he said. "That’s a real talented line with a couple of real goal scorers [Lefort and Tutino] on the wings and a fantastic player in MPP in the middle. They did a great job. ... They really did a good job moving the puck around. Particularly in situations I felt we had coverage in the zone.
"Yet they seemed to find that kid and the longer they held on to the puck, the trickier it was for us. They kept us on our heels. I don’t think we brought our A-game today, which is unfortunate but I always direct a lot of credit to the opponents and how well they played."
Pankowski in particular received glowing praise when Durocher called her first goal a "million-dollar move."
The freshman has seemingly found a new level in the past couple of weeks as the pressure of the playoffs and the end of the season has brought out her best.
The Badgers looked cohesive and as though they were clicking. Zgraja called the season a marathon, not a sprint, and mentioned that the whole team has found a comfort level.
"I think our team is really at a point right now where we’re clicking amazingly – every line, every D pairing," she said.
The trip to the Frozen Four is Wisconsin's eighth in 10 years. For the senior class, it's another chance to finally beat rival Minnesota.
"Our team dynamic is really cool right now," Zgraja said. "We’re all on the clouds, but we’re humble at the same time. We’re all focused on the same goal and I think that’s what making us successful right now."
Wisconsin will meet Minnesota for the fifth time this season. The Badgers are 0-3-1 against the Gophers this year. The two teams tied the last time out, ending an 11-game losing streak.