ST. PAUL, MINN. -- The reason Wisconsin was picked as the preseason Big Ten conference favorite was due in large part to its senior-laden roster. That veteran depth paid off in a huge way in the conference tournament championship Saturday night, as the Badgers bounced back from a two-goal deficit in the third period to rally for a 5-4 overtime victory over Ohio State.
UW's final three goals were scored by seniors, with top-line center Mark Zengerle potting the game winner 7:48 into the extra session in front of an announced crowd of 10,153 at the Xcel Energy Center.
"Very proud of these young men, especially our seniors," Wisconsin head coach Mike Eaves said. "I thought they provided very good leadership on the bench and in the locker room. Ultimately they got it done on the ice for us."
The Badgers fell behind 4-2 with just under 7 minutes to play in the final period, but had the resiliency to net back-to-back goals in the following 48 seconds to tie the game at four apiece.
Jefferson Dahl led the comeback for Wisconsin, tallying his fourth goal of the season on a rebound out in front of the Ohio State net. Just 28 seconds later, UW's top line evened the ledger on a beautiful passing play that ended in Tyler Barnes one-timing a pass from Nic Kerdiles past OSU goaltender Christian Frey.
"When we got down two goals in the third, I think the response of (Dahl's) line really was a shot of adrenaline," Eaves said. "And we felt like we could keep going and create something special, and we did."
The Badgers were able to carry the momentum into the overtime session, and Zengerle was able to poke home the winner after a mad scramble in front of the Ohio State net.
The win earned Wisconsin its second consecutive postseason championship after taking home the WCHA Final Five title in this building last season. The Badgers are now on an eight game winning streak at the Xcel Energy Center dating back to the 2010 Final Five third place game.
"It was important for us to get the first Big Ten championship," Zengerle said. "We had no quit in our game."
Wisconsin's top two lines were big all weekend, and that culminated on Saturday when Zengerle was named the most outstanding player in the tournament. Zengerle's line, along with Barnes and Kerdiles, ended the night with two goals and six assists.
Another big-time performance from a big-time line.
"Every shift, every game, we want to be big time out there," Zengerle said. "With the puck and without the puck, we want to do things well. We don't think we're maxed out at all.
"We're going to keep working and keep growing, keep playing better hopefully."
Ohio State jumped out to a two-goal lead in the first period of the contest, getting goals from Ryan Dzingel and Nick Oddo before the game was even 10 minutes old.
Just as they did on Friday, however, the Badgers would get a key goal at the end of the period. This one came from Jake McCabe on the power play, as the junior blueliner whistled a wrist shot from the point that cut OSU's lead in half heading into the first intermission.
Wisconsin would convert on the power play again in the second period as Morgan Zulinick picked up his fourth of the season 11:24 into the middle frame. A long-range shot from Frankie Simonelli bounced right on the stick of Zulinick who swiftly flipped it past Frey to even the score 2-2.
Clark Cristofoli and Tanner Fritz would tally Ohio State's third and fourth goals, as the Buckeyes attempted to keep their season alive.
At the end of the day, UW's talent and depth was too much to overcome for first-year head coach Steve Rohlik's club.
"It prepares us for the next level," Eaves said of winning the Big Ten. "It prepares us for less oxygen in the air as we climb this mountain.
"We can talk about it, but the fact that they've lived through it and handled it, you can't replace that with anything."
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