Trading wins and losses, as the University of Wisconsin men’s hockey team did for most of its first five weeks of the season, is a path toward mediocrity.
So when the Badgers opened a Big Ten Conference series with a thoroughly constructed victory over No. 4 Notre Dame on Friday, it created another opening for them to take a step away from a .500 record.
Just as they tried to make that step Saturday, the door got slammed in their faces.
Alex Steeves scored 1:58 into overtime, ending a wild stretch at both ends of the ice with a 5-4 Fighting Irish victory at the Kohl Center.
The 15th-ranked Badgers took the lead on K’Andre Miller’s power-play goal with 9:03 remaining but couldn’t hold on and fell back to an even record overall (6-6) and to 1-3 in the Big Ten.
The Badgers look for a Big Ten series sweep against the Fighting Irish.
Steeves waved goodbye to the crowd after scoring through a pack of bodies from the middle of the zone. That followed Badgers goaltender Daniel Lebedeff making saves on Colin Theisen and Tory Dello attempts.
It also came seconds after Badgers forward Cole Caufield had his seventh shot on goal, on a breakaway up the left side, stop on the goal line after getting through Notre Dame goaltender Cale Morris. Irish defenseman Nate Clurman swept the puck away from danger.
“It kind of sums up the game of hockey,” Badgers coach Tony Granato said. “Sometimes you get a bounce, sometimes you don’t. We came within a half-inch of a goal at one end, and it doesn’t cross the line for us. They come back the other way and put it in our net.”
Caufield got pushed into the corner, so he didn’t see how close his shot came to winning the game until the replay was shown on the scoreboard.
“It was tough — they went back down to the other end of the ice and scored,” Caufield said. “We had a lot of chances. It was a close game the whole way. You can’t just blame it on one time or one breakaway. But obviously, you just want to see that go in, and we get a tough loss.”
It was a gut punch to the Badgers, who answered Notre Dame scores three times and finally took the lead in the third period.
Cole Caufield and Roman Ahcan scored in the first two periods with the man advantage, giving UW as many power-play goals Friday as it had in the previous six games.
Miller had two levels of traffic in front of Morris — teammates Roman Ahcan and Dylan Holloway — when he pulled back and fired a power-play shot that caught the upper left corner of the net.
But the Irish (8-1-1, 4-1-1 Big Ten) clawed back to even with a rebound goal after Lebedeff made two nice point-blank saves on Steeves. Theisen forced the puck into the net from the left side to make it 4-4 with 6:24 left in regulation.
UW’s Alex Turcotte nearly gave the Badgers the lead again with 3:15 remaining in the third when he batted the rebound of a Tyler Inamoto shot out of the air in front of the net, but the puck skipped off the top of the crossbar.
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“We had our chances all game,” captain Wyatt Kalynuk said. “We had breakaways, we had a lot of chances to bury it. Even right before they scored, we get one on the goal line. Obviously, it (stinks) a lot. They’re a good team but we definitely had our chances.“
The Badgers won 3-0 on Friday but had a hungry Notre Dame team come out strong Saturday.
The Irish led 3-2 entering the third period, but Kalynuk scored 31 seconds in to tie the game after a drop pass from Caufield opened up a lane. It was the third time that UW answered a Notre Dame score.
The first two Badgers responses came in the first period.
Trevor Janicke scored on the game’s first shift, 34 seconds in, to put the Irish ahead, but UW’s Dylan Holloway scored on a 2-on-4 rush to make it 1-1.
Notre Dame regained the lead after Clurman’s shot from close range to the right of the net hit Lebedeff’s stick and popped straight up. It landed for fourth-line center Cam Burke to push in from the top of the crease.
Less than two minutes later, UW transitioned with a 3-on-1 rush after Steeves hit the post and he and his teammates were slow to recover. At the other end of the ice, Weissbach buried a pass from Sean Dhooghe to make it 2-2.
Weissbach, who scored into an empty net to seal Friday’s victory, had goals in consecutive games for the first time in his 73-game UW career.
Notre Dame went ahead for a third time less than four minutes into the second period after Jesse Lansdell redirected home a shot off an offensive-zone faceoff.
The Badgers had two breakaways in the middle frame to try to get back to even. Morris made a save on Caufield a minute after Lansdell’s goal and Owen Lindmark fired wide in the final minute.
“It’s two great teams that battled for two nights,” Granato said. “Tonight, it didn’t go our way.”
Notre Dame 2 1 1 1 — 5
Wisconsin 2 0 2 0 — 4
First period: ND — Janicke 5 (Lansdell), :34. W — Holloway 2 (Weissbach, Lindmark), 6:37. ND — Cam Burke 2 (Clurman), 11:17. W — Weissbach 3 (S. Dhooghe), 13:06. Penalties: Gorniak, W, 1:58; Slaggert, ND, 1:58; O’Leary, ND, 15:08; Messner, W, 18:00; Leivermann, 18:43.
Second period: ND — Lansdell 1 (Leivermann, Pivonka), 3:49.
Third period: W — Kalynuk 2 (C. Caufield, Emberson), :31; Miller 4 (C. Caufield, Holloway), 10:57 (pp). N — Theisen 4 (A. Steeves), 13:36. Penalties: Turcotte, W, 5:46; Team, ND, 10:13.
Overtime: ND — A. Steeves 2 (Dello, Theisen), 1:58.
Saves: ND (Morris 11-7-11-2) 31; W (Lebedeff 8-11-9-3) 31. Power plays: ND 0-for-2; W 1-for-3. Att. — 12,593.