MADISON, Wis. -- As it continues its second-half surge, Wisconsin (11-8-5, 8-5-5 WCHA) knew it wouldn't be able to consistently win by margins such as the 5-2 victory it had earned the night before against Alaska Anchorage (3-16-5, 1-15-4).
"I wish, and the players wish, that every game would be like last night," head coach Mike Eaves said. "But that's not reality. These are nights where you've got to find ways to solve the riddle."
It's those riddles and close contests that Eaves believes really test and define a team. Good teams find a way to solve them.
The Badgers did just that on Saturday night, holding off the Seawolves for the 2-1 win to sweep the weekend and season series (4-0-0) and extend their conference unbeaten streak to 10-straight games (7-0-3).
Finding a way to end up on the right side of tight battles such as Saturday night's have defined the turnaround and grit of the Badgers during the second half of the season.
"The strides we've made over the year are pretty amazing," Tyler Barnes (Eagan, Minn.) said. "I think that's the biggest thing we've changed is we've gotten used to the guys we're playing with and we have more trust in the guys we're playing with.
"Things are going more smoothly and the hard is still there. That's where we need to keep the focus."
That newfound focus has been a key to the Badgers' continued climb up the standings. Once tied for 10th in the WCHA standings, Wisconsin has moved itself up into a tie for fourth place. The Badgers began the weekend in eighth place, but now sit just four points out of first.
Alaska Anchorage came out with plenty of energy and held most of the momentum throughout the first period. The Seawolves outshot the Badgers seven-to-three through the first period, while also holding Wisconsin without a shot on goal for the first 11 minutes of play.
"We've been here, we know that we're better, and we need to go out there and go back to basics," Eaves said his message was to the team after the first period. "It was more of a reminder."
The Badgers came out in the second period with a re-focused effort, as Barnes finally got the team on the board at the 1:22 mark of the period. Barnes cut to the net on the rush, took a feed from Jefferson Dahl (Eau Claire, Wis.), then stuffed the puck past the goaltender to give Wisconsin the 1-0 lead. Nic Kerdiles (Irvine, Calif.) was also credited with the assist on the play.
It was the sixth goal for Barnes, the second on the weekend and also his third against the Seawolves this season.
Dahl recorded his second point of the night and extended the Badgers' lead, scoring on a rebound in front of net to give UW the 2-0 lead at the 4:31 mark of the period. Brad Navin (Waupaca, Wis.) and Frankie Simonelli (Bensenville, Ill.) were credited with assists on the play.
The Seawolves would continue to make a game of things, however, after Dahl was called for holding to put Alaska Anchorage on a power play late in the second period. With the man advantage, Jordan Kwas freed himself up back door and got the puck past UW goaltender Landon Peterson (Oregon, Wis.) in to cut Wisconsin's lead to 2-1 with just a minute left in the period.
"In practice, he does not like any pucks to get behind him," Eaves said of Peterson. "He battles on every shot. It's one of the reasons that he has the numbers that he has."
Peterson played a big role in helping the Badgers battled off the late rally of the Seawolves, denying a number of third-period scoring opportunities and recording 21 saves on the night to earn his fifth win of the season (5-2-2).
"You have to come in prepared and focused each and every day at practice and every night during the weekend," Peterson said. "Joel (Rumpel) and I are both playing well, so you just have to stay focused all the time."
Playing well as a whole, Wisconsin next travels to Grand Forks, N.D., where it faces off against North Dakota. WCHA standing implications will be on the line, as the UND and the Badgers are tied for fourth place in the conference. Opening faceoff is set for 7:30 p.m. (CT) on Friday and 7 p.m. on Saturday. Both games are scheduled to air on Fox College Sports.
- Peterson makes 21 saves to improve to 5-2-2 on season
- Dahl scores, records assist to lead team in points
- Badgers extend WCHA unbeaten streak to 10 games