DETROIT — Sophomore forward Will Johnson’s goal at 1:30 in the third period lifted the No. 2 Wisconsin Badgers (20-14-1) past the No. 3 Ohio State Buckeyes (21-11-6) and into Saturday’s Big Ten final with a 2-1 victory on Friday in the first semifinal at Joe Louis Arena.
The Badgers took advantage of an early two-on-one where forward Aidan Cavallini delivered a perfect pass across the crease to Johnson, who beat OSU senior goaltender Matt Tomkins.
OSU sophomore forward Dakota Joshua had the lone goal for the Buckeyes on the powerplay in the second period. Tomkins finished the day with 24 saves on 26 shots.
In the final period, OSU fired 11 shots on Wisconsin goaltender Jack Berry, all of which turned aside. At 4:22 in the third, Joshua deflected a pass from senior forward David Gust that was initially ruled a goal until further review indicating the puck hit the crossbar and didn’t cross the goal line.
Berry had 23 saves for the Badgers. Sophomore forward Luke Kunin had the first goal for Wisconsin.
“We knew it was going to be a tight game,” OSU coach Steve Rohlik said. “We knew they weren’t trying to give up much and we tried to do the same thing. We just didn’t do enough to win the game today.”
The Buckeye defense was shaky early on, struggling to keep pucks out of the zone, but Tomkins held his own in net. Within in the first two minutes of the game, Wisconsin junior forward Cameron Hughes had a breakaway opportunity, but was turned away by Tomkins.
OSU had its fair share of early chances, as well. Five minutes in, freshman forward Tanner Laczynski had a shot from the slot that hit off the post. Minutes later, Joshua had an attempt from the low slot and was denied by Wisconsin freshman goaltender Jack Berry.
The Badgers struck first with a late first-period goal on a rebound attempt sent home by Kunin, his 22nd of the season. With OSU’s third-line defensemen on the ice, the Badgers won the faceoff and swung the puck over to the left point where freshman defenseman JD Greenway threw a shot on net. The shot caromed off Tomkins and bounced in front to Kunin’s stick, who slotted the puck in the top left corner of the net, taking the 1-0 lead into the first intermission.
The OSU offense finally found its legs halfway through the second period. At 13:29, Wisconsin junior forward Ryan Wagner was called for a penalty, putting the nation’s No. 1 powerplay on the ice for the first time.
After a Wisconsin clear went out of play, first-team All-Big Ten sophomore forward Mason Jobst won the faceoff and threw the puck to Joshua on the end line to the right of the net. Joshua spun around a defender and pushed the puck past Berry to tie the game at one.
Following the goal, the Buckeyes had two more chances in front of the net that they couldn’t quite get a stick on. With under a minute to play, Joshua created a turnover in the offensive zone and left it for senior forward Nick Schilkey whose shot glanced off Berry’s right pad and out of play to keep the score 1-1 heading into the final frame.
Tomkins made large contributions again in the second, making 14 saves. Senior forward David Gust and sophomore forward Miguel Fidler each committed a hooking penalty in the period, but Tomkins and the defense stood the test and killed off both penalties. On Fidler’s penalty, Tomkins stopped a straightaway shot from Greenway from the high right slot, then stopped two more chances off rebounds in front of the net.
The entire game, Wisconsin stymied the Buckeye offense. OSU only had 12 shots through the first two periods for a team that averages 30 shots per game. The Badger defense prevented OSU from penetrating the offensive zone, which forced a lot of the offense to play along the boards instead of the transition game that OSU prefers to play.
“They were having the same defense that we were trying to have,” Schilkey said. “I just think they did a little bit better tonight. We have to get back to pucks, help our (defense) out. At times we were trying to stretch (passes) out too much.”
At 17:32 in the third period, just as OSU was ready to send on another forward and pull Tomkins, senior defenseman Josh Healey was called for a hit to the head which resulted in a game misconduct and a five-minute major. Tomkins wasn’t able to come off the ice until 16 seconds were on the clock. Junior forward Matt Weis fired a desperation shot on net, which was saved by Berry.
With the loss, the Buckeyes are on the bubble of the NCAA tournament picture heading into Selection Sunday. When asked whether OSU had done enough to earn an at-large bid, Rohlik didn’t have a definitive answer.
“I think that’s up to the compute to figure out, I guess,” he said. “Hopefully we have, but obviously we need a few things to go our way.”