March 20, 2009

The Wisconsin women’s hockey team is playing for the national title again.

Wisconsin used four power-play goals – two each from linemates Hilary Knight and Erika Lawler – and got 29 saves from goaltender Jessie Vetter in a 5-1 victory over fifth-seeded Minnesota-Duluth Friday afternoon at Agganis Arena.

The Badgers (33-2-5) are the first team in NCAA women’s hockey history to advance to the national championship game four years in a row. They will face the winner of the other semifinal game, being played this evening, between second-seeded Minnesota and No. 3 seed Mercyhurst. The title game will be played on Sunday at noon ET (11 a.m. CT).

Wisconsin, of course, won NCAA titles in 2006 and 2007. The Badgers lost the title game to Minnesota-Duluth last year.

Both teams had scoring opportunities in a scoreless first period, although the Badgers generally carried the play. Minnesota-Duluth (26-9-4) killed off three penalties in the opening stanza, but it was the Badgers who ended the first period on the wrong end of a 5-on-3 situation.

Once Wisconsin killed off the remainder of the 5-on-3 early in the second period, the tournament’s top seed got its offense cranked up. Lawler and Knight, New England natives playing in front of family and friends here, accounted for all three second-period goals and all came on the power-play.

Lawler took a pass from Knight below the goal line in the corner to goaltender Johanna Ellison’s right and banked in a shot off the UMD netminder at the 11:16 mark. Alycia Matthews also drew an assist. Just over a minute later, with UMD’s Elin Holmlov off for a 5-minute hitting-from-behind penalty, Knight took a pass from another native New Englander – Meghan Duggan – went in alone from the UMD blue line, faked Ellison and slid a backhander in behind the Bulldog goaltender for her school-record and nation-leading 43rd goal of the season at the 12:33 mark. Lawler flipped in a rebound off a Knight shot for UW’s third tally at 16:36, with Duggan picking up the second assist.

The Badgers removed all doubt after they killed an early penalty in the third period. Kyla Sanders tucked a nice goal past Ellison’s right pad at the 5:26 mark for a 4-0 Wisconsin lead and an insurmountable hill for the Bulldogs to climb. Knight added her second goal of the game later in the period. The Bulldogs wrecked Vetter’s shutout bid when Laura Fridfinnson’s shot bounced off teammate Jamie Rasmussen and into the UW net with 4:52 left to play.

Ellison stopped 27 of Wisconsin’s 32 shots on goal.