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Wisconsin women's hockey: Badgers shut out Minnesota State

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With Saturday's victory, Wisconsin is one win away from clinching the WCHA regular-season title.

MADISON -- It was business as usual for the Wisconsin women's hockey team Saturday at LaBahn Arena as they dispatched the Minnesota State-Mankato Mavericks 4-0. It was Wisconsin's 21st consecutive home win, a program record.

"I think we are doing great. We played hard for 60 minutes; we battled hard. This will carry into the playoffs, which is huge," said junior Sydney McKibbon.

The Mavericks had the Badgers a little frustrated in the first period as they clogged up the zone and didn't allow Wisconsin to set up their game. It took a 4-on-4 situation late in the period for the Badgers to get on the board. McKibbon was able to tuck the puck around Mankato goalie Brianna Quade. That would prove to be the game winner.

It was McKibbon's first goal in more than three months. She last tallied one at Mankato on Halloween.

Despite knocking the Badgers a bit off their game plan early on, the Mavericks could not muster up much offense. Wisconsin features the country's best team defense, allowing just 0.57 goals per game.  MSU attempted just 28 shots all game -- less than Wisconsin attempted in any single period. On the other end, it was the seventh time this season that the Badgers had more than 50 shots on goal in a game.

Mankato is a young team -- 15 of the 20 players on their Saturday line sheet are underclassmen. They have not been able to win a conference game this season and have just three wins all year.

Wisconsin came out for the second period a bit more organized. Coach Mark Johnson attributed it a bit to the emotions of senior weekend and Mankato's ability to block the puck -- they had 13 blocks on Wisconsin's 36 first period attempts.

Senior Erica Sowchuk said coach just reminded the team to be settled.

"He just told us to stick to our game and do the little things right; win the 50-50 battles and keep pushing the puck to the net. I think we executed that well and stuck to our game," said Sowchuk.

The second period featured two early goals. Sophomore Baylee Wellhausen used her speed to get on a fast break from the blue line. Her dangle tied up Quade and Wellhausen put the puck in the net to give the Badgers a 2-0 lead less than six minutes into the second period.

Sowchuk added to the lead about two minutes later with a long distance shot that hit on the inside of the goal post. Some confusion with a challenge from MSU's bench and a review ensued, but in the end the video confirmed the ref's initial call that the puck hit over the red line.

Wisconsin was 1-for-3 on the power play and it was the final one of the game that closed out the scoring. Senior Courtney Burke wristed a long shot from the blue line and McKibbon redirected it past Quade.

With Saturday's win, Wisconsin is one victory away from clinching the WCHA regular season title. It would be the program's fifth regular season title and their first since 2012. The Badgers won the WCHA conference tournament last season.

The game was also the 16th shutout this season for junior goalie Ann-Renée Desbiens. She needs just one more shut out this season to tie former Minnesota Gopher Noora Räty for the NCAA record. Desbiens' season numbers are poised to shatter current NCAA records -- 0.59 goals against average and a .967 save percentage. It's been a historic season for her from start to finish. Her 27 wins are most on the country. She now has 33 shutouts in 77 career starts.

It was the ninth sellout at LaBahn, coming during Wisconsin's final home series of the season. They will finish out the home slate against Mankato on Sunday by honoring their seniors and possibly raising the regular season hardware.

"They have an opportunity tomorrow to do something special and that doesn't come along too often. They need to come out tomorrow and start the game strong and really play aggressive and try to capitalize and create some opportunities...We talked about winning six periods, we’re halfway there and we just got to stay focused and continue to do what we’ve done up to this point."