Two boxes that have been checked only sporadically by the University of Wisconsin men’s hockey team were there for the taking Saturday night.
The Badgers entered the finale of a weekend set against No. 12 Boston College with a chance for their first two-game sweep in their past 11 home series.
They also could open the season 2-0 for only the third time in the past 18 years.
A three-goal, second-period lead wasn’t enough to do it, but the Badgers recovered from what could have been a crushing five-minute stretch to pull out a 7-5 victory over the Eagles at the Kohl Center.
When things seemed to be slipping away from the Badgers — BC scored three times in the final 4:32 of the second to tie things — goals 70 seconds apart by Linus Weissbach and Brock Caufield in the third period put the Badgers back ahead.
“It’s hard to put a word on it, but we just stick together,” Weissbach said. “We’re a pretty tight group this year, and I think that really showed tonight.”
Weissbach jumped on the juicy rebound of K’Andre Miller’s shot to restore UW’s lead 6:32 into the third. And Caufield, a freshman, scored his first collegiate goal as UW’s fourth line got rewarded for good play in the series.
Caufield’s shot redirected off Eagles defenseman Jesper Mattila’s stick and up over goalie Joseph Woll (26 saves), who had trouble all night with deflections and rebounds.
“We’re just hard workers,” Caufield said of his line with Roman Ahcan and Dominick Mersch. “We don’t take anything for granted. … We’ve been stressing tracking pucks a lot, and we don’t give up on the backcheck, keep hunting all day. That leads to a lot of chances for our line.”
BC’s David Cotton completed a hat trick with 3:15 remaining to bring the Eagles within one at 6-5, but UW defenseman Wyatt Kalynuk scored into an empty net — his second goal of the game — in the final seconds.
After a 2017-18 season where the Badgers came unhinged on occasion to lose leads or to struggle in decisive moments, Saturday’s result showed a level of resolve that may have been missing before.
“I think there’s just a lot of character in this room,” sophomore wing Sean Dhooghe said. “A lot of love for each other. And everyone playing for the guy next to him and not themselves.”
The Badgers’ last home series sweep came against Michigan on Feb. 17-18, 2017. They were just 7-9-3 at the Kohl Center last season.
The only times in the previous 17 seasons that UW won its first two games came through sweeps of Mercyhurst in 2004 and Northern Michigan in 2013. Neither of those opponents was nationally ranked.
UW built a 4-1 lead in the second period but watched it crumble in the final minutes as the Badgers were called for two penalties.
David Cotton scored goals 1:54 apart, the first on a power play after a Jarod Zirbel interference call and the second on a centering pass from Jacob Tortora that left Cotton sliding into the crease.
And the Eagles pulled back to even with 48.2 seconds left before the intermission with UW’s Tyler Inamoto serving an interference penalty. Connor Moore threaded a pass diagonally through UW’s penalty killers to Graham McPhee, who scored from the low right side.
Called on for a second straight start after earning a 29-save shutout on Friday, Jack Berry made 28 stops for the Badgers.
UW survived a 37-second stretch late in the first period when BC had a two-man advantage after penalties to Dhooghe and Inamoto. Berry made a save on Oliver Wahlstrom and defenseman Ty Emberson blocked a Casey Fitzgerald attempt.
That preserved a 2-1 lead gained through two goals that Kalynuk helped create. The defenseman launched the first shot on goal of the game, and Woll left a rebound that Dhooghe put home after just 38 seconds.
The lead lasted only 42 seconds, however, because the Eagles scored on their first shot on goal, by Wahlstrom.
UW restored its lead later in the first period thanks to a good piece of work by winger Max Zimmer, who skated around the net and fed Kalynuk at the left point. Kalynuk’s shot may have been going wide right, but it hit Eagles defenseman Casey Fitzgerald and banked into the net.
Boston College 1 3 1 — 5
First period: W — S. Dhooghe 1 (Kalynuk), :38. B — Wahlstrom 1 (Grando, Kim), 1:20. W — Kalynuk 1 (Zimmer, Mersch), 12:41. Penalties: S. Dhooghe, W, 16:26; Inamoto, W, 17:49.
Second period: W — Baker 2 (Weissbach, S. Dhooghe), 4:32; Johnson 1 (Zimmer, Malone), 12:47. B — Cotton 1 (Moore, Kim), 15:28 (pp); Cotton 2 (Tortora), 17:22; McPhee 1 (Moore, Cotton), 19:11 (pp). Penalties: Zirbel, W, 13:40; Inamoto, W, 18:07; Hutsko, B, 19:52.
Third period: W — Weissbach 1 (Miller, Baker), 6:32; Caufield 1 (Mersch, Ahcan), 7:42. B — Cotton 3 (Brown), 16:45. W — Kalynuk 2 (Baker), 19:55 (en). Penalties: Dudek, B, 2:09; Malone, W, 8:01; Kalynuk, W, 17:44; Ju. Mattila, B, 17:44.
Saves: B (Woll 8-11-7) 26; W (Berry 12-7-9) 28. Power plays: B 2-for-5; W 0-for-2. Att. — 9,819.