Michigan State may have come in with just four wins on the season and none in Big Ten play, but the Badgers needed this series to start out well for them if they are to get things rolling in the second half of the season.
Getting off to a quality start hasn’t been the Wisconsin Badgers’ biggest strength so far this season. However, as the second half of the season began against the Spartans, the Badgers did exactly that en route to a 5-1 victory at the Kohl Center.
Wisconsin put up two goals inside the first seven minutes of the first period, and continued the pattern in the second with a pair of goals in the first half of the period to give UW the cushion it needed to take home the win.
Jason Ford netted just his third goal of the season at the 2:21 mark of the first period. He got assists from unlikely contributors Cullen Hurley (his first of the year) and Dan Labosky (4) thanks to some timely defending in the neutral zone.
Wisconsin would be tested on its own end of the ice shortly after, allowing the first of four power plays on the day for Michigan State. However, there was nothing doing on that opportunity.
Instead, it was Wisconsin taking advantage of its opportunities. That was on display as Cameron Hughes took a bouncing puck and fired a shot in stride that beat Spartans netminder Ed Minney low and to the stick side with just 6:21 gone in the first period.
MSU responded back just one minute later, putting one in off the post to cut UW’s lead to 2-1.
UW dominated much of the offensive action throughout the first 20 minutes of action, taking a 14-3 lead in shots.
Naturally it led to a rough night at times for Michigan State goaltender Ed Minney, who stopped just 31 of 36 shots faced in the series opener. His opposite number, Jack Berry, wasn’t tested all that much, but passed most of the limited tests nearly flawlessly. Berry faced just 26 shots on the night, with only a few really troubling him.
He was simply on his best game to start the second half of the season, highlighted by some amazing work to start the third period.
The second period felt a lot like the first, as Wisconsin dominated the offensive play early on in the period. It helped that the Badgers had a 5-on-3 advantage early on, but it took nearly all of the advantage for Wisconsin to find the back of the net.
After a nice switch at the point between Grant Besse and Seamus Malone, the latter found Will Johnson all alone on the back doorstep of Minney’s net and made it 3-1 with just 2:40 off the clock in the second period.
Special teams play would be huge in the second period for Wisconsin, as UW would hold off one penalty and score off the same shorthanded situation.
With a two-goal lead, Wisconsin made sure to put things out of reach with a short-handed effort from Jake Linhart (2). The goal came just as Michigan State was getting called for a penalty of its own, one of four in the second period alone.
UW would face a hectic few minutes to start the third period, but Berry’s play in net and some steady overall defending settled things down.
It also didn’t let up on the offensive end of things either, peppering Minney with quality over quantity in the final period. Only one of those found the back of the net though, and it was Grant Besse’s handiwork all over the play.
He led a breakaway up ice and threaded a great pass to Seamus Malone, who then put one towards the middle that fooled Minney and let Max Zimmer put one in to an empty glove side of the net for a 5-1 final scoreline.
It was about as complete a performance as possible. Wisconsin’s defense was impressive, it scored on the power play and short-handed as well. Most importantly, it got off on the right foot and didn’t let one goal snowball in to more against them after a 2-0 start to the contest.
This has a feeling of a team that is figuring it out just in time to make a run under Granato. Let’s see if one game can be the catalyst for more consistent performances to come.
Wisconsin and Michigan State will tangle in the series finale tomorrow at 7p.m. CT. BTN will have live coverage of the contest.