The Badgers are clawing their way towards an NCAA men’s hockey tournament birth.
No. 16 Wisconsin (19-11-1 overall, 12-5-0-0 Big Ten), faced with a brutal end of year schedule with series against three ranked teams, have risen to the challenge. Fresh off a split last week at Minnesota, including a 3-2 win last Friday against the Gophers, Wisconsin went back on the road again Friday, matching up with No. 11 Penn State (20-9-2 overall, 9-7-1-0 Big Ten) in University Park. The Badgers’ sixth-ranked scoring offense poured it on as Wisconsin beat the Nittany Lions 7-4.
Will Johnson got the scoring started for the Badgers midway through the first period, putting a Ryan Wagner pass past Penn State goaltender Peyton Jones for a 1-0 lead.
A great find by Ryan Wagner to feed Johnson who slams it home to give UW a first-period lead. pic.twitter.com/1KEXhpJ7dD— Wisconsin Hockey (@BadgerMHockey) March 4, 2017
Penn State pulled one back just a few minutes later and the game stayed tied 1-1 after the first period. Wisconsin jumped back out to the lead five minutes into the second on a Seamus Malone goal that trickled past Jones.
Here is Malone's tally that juuuust got over the line to make it 2-1. pic.twitter.com/lYWdcLCR0q— Wisconsin Hockey (@BadgerMHockey) March 4, 2017
The Badgers extended the advantage midway through the period on a Jason Ford rebound goal that put Wisconsin up 3-1.
Ford's fourth goal of the season following a strong shift from Will Johnson and Jake Linhart. pic.twitter.com/J3Dzv0NSeK— Wisconsin Hockey (@BadgerMHockey) March 4, 2017
Penn State’s second-ranked scoring offense came roaring back, as the Nittany Lions grabbed two quick goals within a minute of each other late in the second period. Matt Ustaski put the Badgers back on top with just 12 seconds left in frame, blasting a shot past Jones from the top of the circle to make the game 4-3 after two.
Ustaski rips one home to give UW the lead heading into the second intermission. pic.twitter.com/XJQ4u8p1eo— Wisconsin Hockey (@BadgerMHockey) March 4, 2017
The scoring burst continued into the third period. Senior assistant captain Grant Besse scored a goal for the first time this calendar year, breaking the drought with the ultimate game-winner off a rebound dig past Jones.
Besse keeps at it, scoring to briefly give the Badgers a 5-3 lead. pic.twitter.com/EG1dYtOaIP— Wisconsin Hockey (@BadgerMHockey) March 4, 2017
After Penn State made it 5-4 on a goal by Dylan Richard, Ryan Wagner grabbed a pair of goals to close out the game. The first came off of a gorgeous weave past two Penn State defenders leading to a wrister that beat Jones.
Incredible patience from Ryan Wagner who tallies his eighth goal of the season. pic.twitter.com/4kHjRVQq44— Wisconsin Hockey (@BadgerMHockey) March 4, 2017
The second was an empty-netter to seal the 7-4 win. Nine Badgers grabbed points in game and five players - Corbin McGuire (three assists), Wagner (two goals, assist), Johnson (goal, two assists), Malone (goal, assist) and Aidan Cavallini (two assists) - had multi-point games. Freshman Jack Berry made 34 saves in the win, including 15 saves in both the first and third periods.
With the win and a loss by No. 5 Minnesota at Michigan, the Badgers moved into a tie for first place in the Big Ten with the Gophers, eight points ahead of Penn State. If Wisconsin gets a point in Happy Valley on Saturday, the Badgers are assured of at least second place in the conference.
Wisconsin also look to strengthen their chances for an NCAA tournament bid. Coming into Saturday’s play, Wisconsin is predicted at No. 12 in the Pairwise Rankings, just a spot behind the Nittany Lions, putting them squarely in the field. There are just three regular season games and the Big Ten tournament left before the tournament field is announced March 19.