A staunch defense and stellar play from Minnesota State senior goalie Danielle Butters were all it took to stymie the Badgers and end a unbeaten streak of eight games in home post-season play. It is just Minnesota State's second ever win against the Badgers and it was a big one.
This is not a game Wisconsin will want to dwell on as Alex Rigsby gave up a couple of soft goals and the Badgers were unable to find the back of the next despite peppering Butters with 51 shots on goal and 99 shots taken. As their frustration mounted, Wisconsin's play diminished and they allowed Mankato to pull them from their game plan.
You can imagine Minnesota State head coach Eric Means will be getting some calls about what changes he made on Saturday to keep the Badgers from prolonged offensive possession as well as beating Rigsby.
The Badgers were unable to sustain control in the offensive zone while Minnesota State-Mankato packed the front of the net, preventing Wisconsin from finding the rebounds and access to the net they are usually able to capitalize on. Not a team prone to long-distance shots, this change in Mankato's defense left the Badgers frustrated.
The play of Butters was sensational. She made save after save, frustrating the the offense and keeping them on their heels. She is likely the most underrated player in the conference and her ability to keep her team in the game cannot be overstated.
Wisconsin was unsuccessful across three power plays, including a 5-on-3, while giving up a short-handed goal. Special teams have been the most prolific part of their game this season, so Mankato's ability to not only keep Wisconsin off the board, but capitalize, had to be hugely demoralizing for the Badgers.
After Wisconsin's 4-0 win on Friday, the best-of-three series is tied. The finale will be tomorrow at LaBahn Arena at 4 pm. How the Badgers respond to this loss will be crucial.
Coach Mark Johnson said it's important that his team comes out strong on Sunday after the disappointing showing Saturday night.
"We had an opportunity today and we didn’t capitalize on it so you have another one tomorrow. The first seven, eight, ten minutes tomorrow are going to be crucial for us. We gave them a little life and we have to come out and establish ourselves again. "
As for making sure the team focuses on Sunday's game on doesn't make the mistake of worrying about the upcoming NCAA tournament, Johnson said the conference tournament provides a good approximation of what the end of the season could look like.
"It’s an opportunity to get a feel of what one and done is," he said. "If you win you move on and if you don’t, you don’t. It’s an opportunity to put yourself in that pressure situation and understanding what’s at stake and if we’re successful obviously it’s going to be beneficial, if you’re not than you have to regroup."
Though Wisconsin does not need the series or a tournament win for an NCAA tournament bid, an early exit to an inferior team will definitely impact their national ranking and thereby their seeding.
Losing their #2 national ranking would take them from hosting a home game at LaBahn in the opening round against the 7 seed to possibly having to head on the road and even possibly having to face Minnesota. Because the committee takes travel mileage into account and whether or not a team needs to fly versus drive, were Wisconsin to fall to a fourth seed or below, it's not inconceivable that the committee would send them to the Twin Cities to play Minnesota, using the travel rule as an excuse. It's happened to Minnesota and North Dakota in the past. All that is total speculation at this point, but is not a situation Wisconsin wants to find itself in. They control their own destiny right now and a win Sunday will make their path much more sure.