Coach Tony Granato didn’t want to read too much into the University of Wisconsin men’s hockey team’s loss to No. 8 Denver on Friday.
It was the Badgers’ first game back from a three-week break, against a quality opponent and with UW’s leading scorer 2,000 miles away.
His team has responded well on Saturdays, Granato said after the Friday defeat, offering his players an avenue for retribution.
Instead, they were dealt a crushing blow Saturday, losing two leads and then falling 4-3 overtime on defenseman Slava Demin’s second goal of the series.
“It’s definitely upsetting as a team,” Badgers senior left wing Matthew Freytag said. “We wanted to win that game. We had the lead. ... Everyone’s a little upset, and we’ve got to learn from that.”
Demin’s shot from the slot — the Pioneers’ 40th of the game — eluded the Badgers’ block attempts as five UW players crowded around the net. It hit off UW goalie Jack Berry’s upper body but deflected into the goal to give Denver a series sweep.
Berry (36 saves) lost his stick on the play and teammates Tyler Inamoto and Dominick Mersch collided in front of him. Granato said his team over-backchecked, giving Demin space to fire.
“It was just trying so hard to get back, kind of a bad break for us that Tyler and Dominick collided on that play and backed Jack off and put him in a bad spot,” Granato said. “Tough to make a save when you’re in that position.”
UW managed only 16 shots on goal, five lower than the previous season low, and went long stretches without putting a shot on Pioneers goalie Filip Larsson (13 saves).
UW (8-9-3) got the first five shots on goal and goals by Mersch and Brock Caufield 28 seconds apart in the game’s opening 5:16. The Pioneers then outshot the Badgers 40-11 the rest of the way.
It ended with the Badgers’ second overtime loss of the season, joining a Nov. 3 defeat at North Dakota. Denver extended its winning streak to five games and improved to 17-4-4 at the Kohl Center.
The Pioneers (12-4-2) flipped the switch and took over after falling behind by two. They recorded 21 of the 26 shot attempts in the final 15:16 of the opening period and cut the Badgers’ lead to 2-1.
Berry stopped Demin’s shot from the left side but the rebound stopped in the crease after hitting Inamoto’s right skate. Tyler Ward broke free to tap the puck home.
Denver held the Badgers without a shot on goal for more than 18 minutes, covering the last nine minutes of the first period and the first nine of the second. The Pioneers posted 21 shots during that time, including a tying goal from Erich Fear.
A power play midway through the second period, however, allowed UW to move off of seven shots on goal for the game and break the 2-2 tie.
Freytag beat Larsson with a perfectly placed shot to the top right corner of the net, giving the Badgers a power-play goal in a season-high five straight games.
But the Pioneers were back on the attack in the third period, getting the first nine shots on goal after the intermission and another tying goal.
Liam Finlay set up Cole Guttman for a shot from the right circle that squeezed through Berry’s pads with 12:06 remaining.
That came less than 90 seconds after one of Berry’s best stops of the game, when he got the shaft of his stick up to turn away a Jarid Lukosevicius try.
Both teams employed different starting goalies than in Friday’s 6-3 Pioneers victory. The Badgers used Berry in the starting role for the first time in seven games after Daniel Lebedeff allowed five goals on 32 shots.
Denver started Larsson, a Detroit Red Wings draft pick who entered Friday’s game in the second period after Devin Cooley suffered a lower-body injury.
The Pioneers had to summon third goalie Michael Corson from a visit with family in the Chicago area to serve as the backup. His equipment arrived on a flight from Denver with a student manager earlier Saturday.
Badgers left wing Max Zimmer was scratched for the first time this season. UW used seven defensemen, with senior Jake Bunz of Middleton dressing for a game for the first time since March 11, 2017.
Leading scorer K’Andre Miller’s absence while playing in the gold-medal game at the World Junior Championship in Vancouver was easily noted with the Badgers opting to shorten their defensive rotation to five players in the second period. Bunz and Jesper Peltonen didn’t see the ice.
“We could have went to three or four (defensemen) if we needed to,” Granato said.
But he conceded that Miller could have made a difference in the series. “We missed him a little bit this weekend,” Granato said. “We certainly would have probably felt better about our lineup against them.”
Denver 1 1 1 1 — 4
Wisconsin 2 1 0 0 — 3
First period: W — Mersch 2 (Inamoto, Caufield), 4:48; Caufield 5 (Messner), 5:16. D — Ward 4 (Demin, Mitchell), 8:10. Penalties: Bench, D, 5:16; Weissbach, W, 12:45; Tischke, W, 16:48.
Second period: D — Fear 1 (Heikkinen, Barrow), 5:25. W — Freytag 2 (Kalynuk, Gorniak), 10:52 (pp). Penalties: Messner, W, 2:28; Fear, D, 9:01; Malone, W, 16:20; Durflinger, D, 16:20; Inamoto, W, 19:57; Guttman, D, 19:57.
Third period: D — Guttman 9 (Finlay, Davies), 7:54. Penalties: J. Dhooghe, W, 4:08; Lukosevicius, D, 4:11; Staub, D, 9:15.
Overtime: D — Demin 3 (Stapley, Finlay), 1:42.
Saves: D (Larsson 5-4-4-0) 13; W (Berry 11-14-11-0) 36. Power plays: D 0-for-4; W 1-for-4. Att. — 11,822.