MADISON, Wis. -- Wisconsin (12-9-7, 9-6-7 WCHA) constructed a three-goal lead on Saturday night against Bemidji State (5-17-6, 4-13-5 WCHA), then found a way to hold off a late rally to earn a 3-2 win at the Kohl Center.
Coined as "the glue of the team" by teammate Brendan Woods (Yorba Linda, Calif.), assistant captain Derek Lee (North Vancouver, British Columbia) was able to help hold things together, recording an assist and leading the Badgers after missing three games due to injury.
"He's a big energy guy," Woods said. "He's the leader. He gets the guys going when we're down. "
Ahead in the score, it began to feel as if the Badgers were trailing as they watched their three-goal lead dwindle to a one by the early third period. Wisconsin would hold off the Bemidji State rally, however, earning two key points in WCHA play and its third on the weekend to continue its late-season push.
"We'll try to win games any way we can," Lee said. "I think we've seen in different weekends throughout the season this year that we can play at a higher level. We're looking to do that game in and game out, so we know it's there. We just have to harness that and bring it to every weekend."
With each weekend becoming more critical than the last, Lee and the Badgers acknowledge that points are at a premium. Sitting in a three-way tie for fifth place in the conference and just one point out of third place, Wisconsin has just six conference games remaining.
The path has been laid. It's on the Badgers now to follow it to the best of their abilities.
"We've carved out this little path for ourselves to make something here," Lee said. "We just have to make sure we're all pulling the rope in the same direction and ready for each game."
The Badgers appeared ready to go early, as Keegan Meuer (Madison, Wis.) scored first on the night. After Brad Navin (Waupaca, Wis.) stole the puck from Bemidji State goalie Mathieu Dugas behind net, Navin fed Meuer in front of net for the open-net finish and 1-0 Wisconsin lead at the 6:24 mark of the first period.
It was an efficient first period of offensive activity for the Badgers, who recorded just seven shots on goal, but scored twice.
The second goal came at the 12:06 mark of the period, as Michael Mersch (Park Ridge, Ill.) grabbed the puck out of the left corner of the Bemidji State zone, then made a cross-ice feed to a trailing Brendan Woods (Yorba Linda, Calif.), who came down the slot to score back door on Dugas.
Dugas surrendered his third goal of the night in the second period, letting a glove save slip out of his grasp and giving Kevin Schulze (White Bear Lake, Minn.) the rebound, which extended the Wisconsin lead to 3-0 at the 10:57 mark of the period.
Playing just over 30 minutes of the game, Dugas saw his night end early after allowing three goals to his seven saves. Andrew Walsh would replace Dugas and make 10 saves, while keeping UW scoreless, to help stabilize the game for Bemidji State.
After a tripping penalty on Wisconsin's Lee, Bemidji State found the net for the first time at 17:21 of the second period. Danny Mattson placed a pass in front of net for Aaron McLeod, who then scored on the power play with the one-timer close to the net.
The Beavers found the net again in the third period, as Sam Randle went end-to-end, then found Brance Orban who got the puck through the legs of Landon Peterson (Oregon, Wis.) for the score. The score cut Wisconsin's lead to 3-2 at the 3:14 mark.
Peterson, who was back in net for Wisconsin for the fourth time in the last five games, recorded 18 saves and allowed two goals to earn his sixth win (6-3-3) of the season.
With Wisconsin facing Minnesota (19-5-4, 11-5-4 WCHA) in the Kohl Center next Friday and then in Chicago outdoors at Soldier Field for the OfficeMax Hockey City Classic on Sunday, Feb. 17, the Badgers will continue to be tested.
"It's focus," Lee said. "Every single period, every single game we've got to have that mentality that we know how important each game is down the stretch."
Opening faceoff between Wisconsin and Minnesota next Friday is set for 7 p.m. (CT), while the rivals will face off in the OfficeMax Hockey City Classic at 3:30 p.m. (CT) in Chicago.
- Peterson makes fourth start in last five games for Wisconsin, records 18 saves in win
- Meuer, Schulze and Woods score for Badgers
- Lee returns after missing three games due to injury, records assist