OMAHA, Neb. — It means little without a good league record, but how a college hockey team fares in non-conference play can make a world of difference in its hopes for an at-large NCAA tournament spot.
The University of Wisconsin on Saturday couldn’t finish a job that would have made its path a little easier.
No. 20 Omaha scored twice in the second period to break a tie, then pulled away in the third for a 5-2 victory over the 12th-ranked Badgers and a series split.
The Badgers try to complete a sweep of a non-conference series against the Mavericks at Baxter Arena.
UW missed on a chance to complete a four-game season sweep of opponents from the National Collegiate Hockey Conference, which has become the national standard bearer.
The Badgers got two goals from freshman Alex Turcotte but fell to 5-3 in non-conference games, an important indicator in the numbers-driven NCAA selection process.
But before they can talk about the postseason, the Badgers have to figure out how to string together positive results.
Omaha extended a one-goal lead in the third period with an 18-5 advantage in shots on goal.
“I thought we played a really good game, actually,” Turcotte said. “We just had some mental lapses there in the third that led to two goals. That killed us, I think.”
After looking strong in a 5-2 victory Friday, goaltender Daniel Lebedeff allowed five goals before being replaced in a game where he struggled with puck control.
Two players with Wisconsin ties scored in the second period to give the Mavericks a two-goal lead after the teams were tied 1-1 at the first intermission.
A carom off lively boards behind Lebedeff two minutes into the middle frame put Omaha ahead.
Zach Jordan missed wide right with a shot, but the puck rebounded to the side of the net, where Joey Abate fed Wausau native Kevin Conley out front for the putaway.
Abate, a freshman who made an oral commitment to the Badgers under former coach Mike Eaves in 2014 but decommitted three years later, made it 3-1 less than six minutes later.
Lebedeff failed to cover a puck that was sliding in on him. Tyler Weiss collected it behind the net and set up Abate with Lebedeff out of position.
UW converted once during a major penalty to Omaha’s Noah Prokop later in the second period. With a 5-on-3 advantage, Turcotte patiently waited low in the right circle before beating Isaiah Saville high.
It gave Turcotte his second multiple-goal game in eight contests for UW. He also scored twice at Merrimack on Oct. 12.
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The Badgers couldn’t cash in on the rest of the major penalty and lost two minutes of it because of their third penalty of the series for playing with too many men.
Turcotte’s goal was only the second on the power play by the Badgers in the last six games. UW (5-5) finished 1-for-5 on the power play Saturday and held Omaha (5-2-1) scoreless on two man-advantage chances.
A slashing penalty on UW’s Tarek Baker after the second period ended set the tone for the third, Badgers coach Tony Granato said. Omaha didn’t score on the power play but did shortly after through Martin Sundberg.
That was one of the mental lapses Turcotte referenced. He said he lost the opponent he should have been covering in front of the net, and Sundberg tapped in a shot that trickled through Lebedeff’s pads.
“I could have been there and prevented a goal,” Turcotte said. “That’s a huge mental shift.”
Sloppy coverage in front of the net less than three minutes later gave Omaha a three-goal advantage. Stopping at the top of the crease, Josh Boyer finished off Sundberg’s pass off a drive up the right wing.
That was the end of the night for Lebedeff, who allowed five goals on 33 shots. Jack Berry replaced him.
Lebedeff, who became the first goaltender to start the Badgers’ first 10 games of a season since Brian Elliott in 2005-06, lacked the sharpness that he had in Friday’s 5-2 victory.
Granato said he’s not worried about Lebedeff’s workload.
“That’s what starting goalies get,” he said. “If it’s 35 starts this year, it’s 35 starts this year.”
Taylor Ward gave Omaha the lead 10:45 into the game but the Badgers responded with a good shift and got even 27 seconds later through Turcotte’s second goal of the series.
Defenseman Tyler Inamoto missed the game with an injured right leg. Granato said he didn’t know how long the junior, who was in a walking boot, would be sidelined. Jesper Peltonen entered a reconfigured Badgers lineup.
Wisconsin 1 1 0 — 2
Omaha 1 2 2 — 5
First period: O — Ward 3 (Pulkkinen, Proctor), 10:45. W — Turcotte 5 (Weissbach), 11:12. Penalties: Messner, W, 13:21; Jones, O, 15:45.
Second period: O — Conley 2 (Abate, Jordan), 1:57; Abate 4 (Weiss), 7:42. W — Turcotte 6 (C. Caufield, Holloway), 15:08 (pp). Penalties: Proctor, O, 9:28; Boyer, O, 14:19; Sullivan, O, 14:33; Prokop, O (major, game misconduct), 14:33; Ahcan, W, 14:33; Team, W, 16:19; Baker, W, 20:00.
Third period: O — Sundberg 1 (Knoepke, Sullivan), 2:28; Boyer 2 (Sundberg, Sullivan), 5:17. Penalty: Team, O, 11:13.
Saves: W (Lebedeff 11-10-6, Berry x-x-10) 37; O (Saville 8-16-5) 29. Power plays: W 1-for-5; O 0-for-2. Att. — 6,411.