SAINT PAUL, Minn. – A pair of short-handed goals by Jefferson Dahl helped stake Wisconsin to a 4-0 lead and the Badgers skated past Minnesota State-Mankato 7-2 in the quarterfinals of the WCHA Final Five on Thursday at Xcel Energy Center. The victory gives the Badgers a spot against top-seeded St. Cloud State in Friday’s semifinals.
The Badgers (20-12-7), who finished tied with Minnesota State and Denver for fourth in league play, didn’t resemble the team that ranked 10th in league scoring with an uncharacteristic opening outburst — three goals in the first 8:11 — against all-conference goaltender Stephon Williams. Then they withstood the Mavericks’ constant attempts to get back in the game, and kept adding goals even while being outshot 40-27.
Asked if the Badgers had previoiusly scored seven goals in any game this season, Wisconsin head coach Mike Eaves said, “No … God, no! I don’t know how to coach when we’re ahead.”
Tyler Barnes opened the game with the first of his two goals, picking the puck off the side boards and racing in on a breakaway, and shooting into the upper-right corner of the net at 1:03.
“Obviously, it was not the start we wanted,” first-year Minnesota State head coach Mike Hastings said. “We wanted to get at least to the second minute. But credit Wisconsin. I don’t think we reacted too well, but our guys continued to battle. Give Wisconsin credit for taking advantage when we gave them the openings.”
Four minutes after the opening goal, Wisconsin’s Joseph LaBate drew a penalty, and Dahl scored the first short-handed goal of the game. Ryan Little chipped the puck up the right boards and Dahl gathered it in and sped up the right. When he was unable to turn the corner on the Mavericks’ defenseman, Dahl shot from deep on the right side and beat Williams from nearly an impossible angle at 6:11.
“I didn’t really see any opening,” Dahl said. “I knew I had a step on the defenseman, so I just threw it on net.”
Exactly two minutes after that, Nic Kerdiles scored after a dizzying passing sequence. Barnes, wide on the left, passed to Rob Ramage, who relayed the puck to Mark Zengerle, and his quick feed to Kerdiles in the right circle was met with a one-timer that hit Williams but trickled through for the 3-0 start at 8:11.
“We could have done a better job not letting their guys come in wide open,” said Minnesota State’s Matt Leitner, defending the goaltender who has bailed out the Mavericks so often this season. “We left him on an island out there.”
The Badgers were short-handed again in the second period when Dahl got loose up the right side, but Williams made the move to stop him and his shot hit the short-side post. But moments later, Dahl carried up the right side, 2-on-1 while still on the penalty kill, and he passed back to the trailing Jake McCabe in the slot. McCabe one-timed a return pass and Dahl put it away from point-blank range at 8:50 — his seventh goal of the season and fourth against the Mavericks. “The puck just seems to go in for me when we play them,” Dahl said with a shrug.
At 9:37 of the second period, Ramage saw Teddy Blueger approaching on a rush, and when Blueger passed the puck, Ramage, at a glide, and with his stick and elbows down, crashed into him. Video replays disclosed that Blueger’s helmeted head-struck Ramage about in the bicep and he went down hard. The officials gave Ramage a penalty then, after conferring, made it a five-minute major for charging.
The extended power play gave Minnesota State the opening, and Jean-Paul LaFontaine sent a no-look behind-the-back pass from deep on the right to Zach Palmquist, who one-timed a shot over goaltender Joel Rumpel to cut Minnesota State’s deficit to 4-1.
Wisconsin padded it to 5-1, though, on a 4-on-4 situation, when Barnes knocked in the puck on a goal-crashing rush from the right side at 12:24. Williams was injured on the play and left the game, replaced by Phil Cook. With Ramage still in the box, Eriah Hayes notched another power-play goal to make it 5-2, but that was as close as the Mavericks could get.
Rumpel was red-hot, with 15 saves in the second period and 16 more to blank the Mavericks in the third. Meanwhile, Dahl, a junior from Eau Claire, Wis., appeared to score a hat trick with a deflection at the left pipe at 16:50 of the middle period, but the goal was disallowed, leaving him with two goals and two close misses.
Not that it mattered. Frankie Simonelli and LaBate scored goals for Wisconsin in the third period and the Badgers cruised into the semifinals.
At 24-13-3, Minnesota State came into the day rated No. 8 in the Pairwise calculations, which mimic the NCAA selection committee’s criteria, which should mean that the Mavericks should be secure for an NCAA berth on Sunday.