VERONA, Wis. - Nine Badgers recorded points, led by five from senior Meghan Duggan (Danvers, Mass.), as No. 1 Wisconsin (31-2-2, 23-2-2-2 WCHA) earned a 9-3 win over St. Cloud State (1-32-1, 1-26-1-1 WCHA) in the Western Collegiate Hockey Association first round playoffs Friday night.
In addition to Duggan's multi-point effort, sophomore Brianna Decker (Dousman, Wis.) and junior Hilary Knight (Sun Valley, Idaho) each recorded four points on two goals and two assists. Junior Carolyne Prevost (Sarnia, Ontario) added three points, including two goals. Wisconsin received two assists from senior Mallory Deluce (London, Ontario) as well.
"When you get into the playoffs, you start the second season," head coach Mark Johnson said. "Everybody is in the starting gates, irrelevant of how the season went. Whether it was a good season or whether you were disappointed in your season, everybody starts off fresh. They are here to win. They came out, and they are going to play hard."
The Badgers broke open a 4-3 game with five third-period goals to earn the 9-3 victory, but St. Cloud State kept it close through the first two frames.
Wisconsin took an early 2-0 lead on goals by Duggan and Knight, but the Huskies responded with goals from Julie Gilbert and Alex Nelson to make it 2-2 late in the first period. Decker solved SCSU goaltender Ashley Nixon at 18:23 of the first to give the Badgers a one-goal lead heading into the first intermission.
The teams exchanged goals in the second period as Decker scored her second-straight power-play goal at the 2:31 mark, giving UW the two-goal lead at 4-2. Again, St. Cloud State battled back as Nelson scored her second of the game.
"When you get up 2-0, you tend to relax a little bit, than all of a sudden it is 2-2. Then you get up 4-2 and they make it 4-3. It is a learning process for us, too," Johnson said. "For some kids, it is their first playoff game and they have to understand the commitment they have to make in order to continue on in this process. It is a learning opportunity."
After two periods, the Huskies held a 19-15 advantage in shots on goal, but Wisconsin erupted for five third-period goals led by Prevost, whose three points all came in the final twenty minutes.
Prevost netted UW's third power-play goal at 1:05 to make it 5-3. Packer and Duggan then scored a pair of goals just 29 seconds apart at 5:44 and 6:13. Prevost scored again at 9:47 before assisting Knight's tally at 10:45 to seal the win.
Freshman goaltender Alex Rigsby made 18 saves and improved to 21-1-2 on the season. St. Cloud State received 20 saves from Ashley Nixon as the Badgers outshot the Huskies, 29-21.
Wisconsin finished the game 3-for-5 on the power play while holding the Huskies scoreless on two power-play opportunities. The physical game saw 18 penalties.
"Obviously, special teams at this time of the year are going to be crucial as you get farther along in the games," Johnson said. "If you are going to be successful, you need your penalty kill unit working hard and your power-play unit scoring goals. That is going to help you win games."
Duggan's five-point effort marked her 25th multi-point game of the season, while Knight extended her career-best point streak to 19 games.
"The kids that have been around, the kids that have been through the process before, are the kids that we rely on right now," Johnson said. "I anticipate us coming back tomorrow and playing a little bit better than we did today."
The Badgers and Huskies continue the WCHA first round best-of-three series Saturday night at the Eagles Nest Ice Arena. Puck drop is set for 7 p.m., and Wisconsin looks to lock up its place in next weekend's WCHA Final Face-off.