Badgers hope to get off ‘street of failure’ against rival Gophers

first_imgThe Wisconsin men’s hockey team played one of its best periods of the season last Friday night against Michigan, but unfortunately it had five more to play.After getting outscored 12-1 in the final five periods of last weekend’s series against the Wolverines, the Badgers (2-15-3, 0-5-1-1 Big Ten) will try to end a six-game winless stretch that dates back to a 2-0 win against Michigan Tech on Jan. 3 when they host rival Minnesota this weekend.Minnesota won the first series of the season between the teams with a 2-2 tie and a 5-2 triumph. But after starting the season ranked No. 1 in the country, the Gophers (11-9-2, 2-2-2) dropped out of the polls this week for the first time since 2011.Like Minnesota, Wisconsin has struggled recently, but the Badgers’ struggles have lasted all season long. That included this past weekend against the Wolverines, arguably the worst weekend of the season for Wisconsin, which led 4-1 in the first game and eventually got outscored by the largest margin for a series this year with 7-4 and 6-0 defeats.Despite the losing skid, Wisconsin senior captain Brad Navin said he has seen resiliency in his teammates.“You still see it in guys that they’re frustrated,” Navin said. “That means they still care and they’re still willing to work hard.”Wisconsin will have to work especially hard to start strong in both games this weekend if it hopes to stay with the Gophers. In the first meeting between the teams, Minnesota blitzed the Badgers in both first periods, outshooting them by a combined margin of 41-10. Wisconsin somehow managed to escape the first period in the first game trailing by just one, despite getting outshot 20-3. But that wasn’t the case in the series finale when Minnesota put up three goals in the opening 20 minutes to put the game out of reach early.That latter instance has often been the case this season, as opponents have outscored Wisconsin 23-5 in the opening frame, and three of those five goals came against Michigan last Friday.Wisconsin head coach Mike Eaves acknowledged that his team has to be ready from the opening faceoff come Friday night.“We didn’t play very well on Saturday night in the first period [against Minnesota] much like this last Saturday,” Eaves said. “We came out and it was 3-0 after the first period there, and we gave up four here the other night, so our Saturday night starts have not been good – kind of taken us out of the game early. So we can’t afford to have that happen.”If Wisconsin can keep the games close after one period, the statistics from this season would indicate that it would have a good chance down the stretch. The Badgers have been outscored in every period this season, but they have had the most success in second periods where they have 17 goals and only allowed 26 to opposing teams.A big part in keeping the games close will fall on the shoulders of senior goaltender Joel Rumpel, who is coming off a tough weekend individually. Rumpel allowed six goals last Friday night and two more in just two minutes and three seconds to start Saturday night before getting pulled. However, Rumpel did re-enter the second game in the second period and had a good finish to the game, Eaves said.Rumpel has made 40 or more saves in each of the last four games, and if the series with Minnesota turns out like it did the first time around with the Gophers having a heavy advantage in shots, Rumpel will need to have a good response to his rough outing last weekend.“There’s definitely been a bit of bounce back,” redshirt senior defenseman Chase Drake said. “It’s tough when you’re in a funk like this. I don’t even know what to call it – a rut, anything like that. It’s tough to come to the rink some days and be positive, but as an older guy and a leader, you got to keep pushing these guys and stay positive all the time.“We still have a lot of games left. We’re pushing to play our best hockey at the end of the season and that’s what we’re trying to do now.”Based on recent series history, the games should be close this weekend, with 10 of the last 11 contests decided by two goals or fewer. Minnesota leads the overall series by 70 games out of 272 total games played, but Wisconsin has fared close to .500 since Eaves took over as head coach, including an 8-9-5 mark at the Kohl Center.With how close the series has been of late, special teams could very well be the deciding factor. Wisconsin’s power play got going last weekend with three goals in Friday night’s contest, the first time it has had that many since Jan. 6, 2012. However, on the other side of special teams, Wisconsin’s penalty kill has not fared as well, yielding a power-play goal in four of the last six games on six of 21 opportunities. When the Badgers have killed off all opponents’ chances on the man advantage though, they have two wins and two ties in seven games.Certainly special teams will be a factor, but Wisconsin will have to learn from its recent mistakes if it hopes to get a favorable result for one of the few times this year.“You have to learn how to win. On that path to winning, you go on the street of failure a couple times,” Eaves said. “That’s where we’re at.”last_img

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