MINNEAPOLIS -- It was a heart-breaking end to the regular season for No. 2 Wisconsin as they fell to rival No. 3 Minnesota 4-3 in overtime. The Badgers had come back from a 3-1 defecit to tie the game with just over 15 minutes left in the third period, but couldn't keep the Gophers off the board one last time.
Minnesota's Kelly Pannek took advantage of a Badger turnover in the neutral zone and skated in on Badger goalie Ann-Renée Desbiens virtually unchecked. The game-winner was scored with just :54 seconds left in the overtime period. It was eerily similar, though with a different result, to the first time these teams met this season. Then, junior Annie Pankowski scored the game-winner with :55 seconds left in overtime.
The Gophers started the game quickly, tallying two goals before the first five minutes passed. The Badgers held the Gophers' top-ranked power play unit off the board on Friday, but couldn't repeat the feat on Saturday as they allowed a power play goal just 3:35 seconds into the game.
Just :90 later, they took advantage of a Badger tactical error and had the game at 2-0 before the first tv timeout. It wasn't the start Badger coach Mark Johnson wanted, but when the first timeout came, he took the chance to calm his team down.
"We got to the first tv timeout and I told the team ‘It’s only five minutes into the game. We’ve got a long way to go. Let’s see if we can get to 2-1,’" he said.
The Badgers did just that when senior Erika Sowchuk put a shot on net that trickled through gopher goalie Amanda Leveille's pads. It was the boost the Badgers needed and their game, and confidence, only improved from there.
The Gophers extended their lead about midway through the game when a scuffle in front of the net ended with Desbiens on top of but not in control of the puck. The subsequent scramble pushed her - and the puck - into the net.
But Wisconsin answered just three minutes later when junior Sarah Nurse got a breakaway. Leveille made the initial save, but did not cover up or control the puck. As Nurse tried to stop her momentum, she and Leveille collided and the puck ended up in the net.
The pace and excitement of the game picked up in the third period and the Badgers were able to tie the game on a beautiful penalty shot by Pankowski. The Badgers had crashed on Leveille and the net and Milica McMillen attempted to throw a loose puck out of the crease. The refs caught it and Pankowski buried the ensuing penalty shot.
Wisconsin out-shot Minnesota 34-27 for the game and dominated the third period 13-4, but could not find the game-winner.
The weekend series could have Pairwise ramifications when it comes to the NCAA tournament in a few weeks, but for the most part, Johnson viewed it as a chance for his team to tune up and get up to post-season speed.
"It was (essentially) a playoff game. We talked this week about coming out of the week more prepared for the playoffs. Now we have an idea what it’s going to take to play for the next few weeks. It was good," he said. "We take a lot of lessons from it. It was heartbreaking to lose the way we ended up losing because we started to push and played really well in the third period and the early part of the overtime. The puck bounced the wrong way today and they capitalized on it."
Though it wasn't the final result wasn't what the Badgers had hoped for, Johnson said his team showed a lot of heart when they faced adversity, coming back from down two goals on the road and forcing overtime - especially after Friday's result.
The Badgers still end the season as WCHA Champions with 74 points - one more than Minnesota. They matched a program record with their 24 conference wins.
The Badgers begin WCHA playoffs on Friday at 7 pm at LaBahn Arena with a best-of-three series against Minnesota State - Mankato. Saturday's game is scheduled for 4 pm and Sunday's, if necessary, will take place at 2 pm.