Brendan Woods’ turnaround shot with 1:42 left in regulation gave Wisconsin a 4-3 victory against UNO.
Time will tell if it also turns around the late-season fortunes of the teams involved in the opener of a key WCHA series Friday night, played in front of a season-high 10,543 at the CenturyLink Center.
“We kind of put ourselves in a bad spot with that loss,” Mavericks defenseman Andrej Sustr said. “… We’d better come out a whole different team (Saturday).”
Sustr, Bryce Aneloski and Ryan Walters all scored for the University of Nebraska at Omaha, which never led but tied the game 1-1, 2-2 and 3-3.
“When you come into a rink like this, and you’re going to play in an atmosphere like this, we talked about pushbacks,” Badger coach Mike Eaves said. “There are going to be swings in momentum.”
No. 16 Wisconsin (15-11-7, 11-7-7 WCHA) got the last push and moved within one point of the Mavs in the standings with 29 points.
Nos. 13 and 15 UNO (18-13-2, 14-9-2) had opened the night tied for third in the league with 30 points, one point behind second-place Minnesota.
But in another big night in the tightly bunched top half of the WCHA, North Dakota won and jumped into second place with 32 points, while Denver — which had been tied for sixth with Wisconsin — knocked off Minnesota to send the Gophers from second place to third.
And Colorado College beat Minnesota State-Mankato to send MSU into a three-way tie for fifth with Denver and Wisconsin.
Those teams are all one point behind UNO, which slid to fourth.
Seven teams are in contention for the six home-ice berths for the first round of the WCHA playoffs. An eighth, Colorado College, is still at least mathematically alive with 24 points.
The Mavs, who are now all but out of contention for the WCHA’s regular-season title, are desperately seeking a split in Saturday’s 7:07 p.m. finale to try to stay in the hunt on the playoff home ice and NCAA tournament fronts.
“We’re going to have to get a split to get back to where we were,” said Walters, whose goal and assist gave him 47 points for the season.
UNO had killed off a late third-period penalty but still couldn’t get the game to overtime.
Woods settled the puck on his stick in the low slot with his back to the net, then pivoted and whipped a shot past Ryan Massa — who was making his official season debut in goal after coming out of a redshirt in last weekend’s exhibition game.
Massa “was OK,” coach Dean Blais said. “He wasn’t the difference in the game that I was hoping he would be.”
Before Woods’ goal, the Mavs hadn’t been able to clear the puck out of their defensive zone.
“We kept fighting back, and we had a pretty good third period going,” Blais said. “One mistake. Puck in the net. Game over.”
UNO has lost four straight home games, with only two wins at last-place Alaska-Anchorage in its last six.
After starting the season 1-7-3, the Badgers have since gone 14-4-4. They are 7-2-4 in WCHA road games.
“I think it’s just the young guys in the locker room buying into what we need to do on the road,” Eaves said. “It’s a simpler game, and they’ve been able to execute that, and we’ve been able to get some timely goals on the road, too.”
Sustr had scored the tying goal with 8:53 left in regulation, jumping on a rebound for the Mavs’ second power-play goal of the period — the first time in 21 games UNO has scored more than one man-advantage goal.
The Mavs scored their first 5-on-4 power-play goal in six games earlier in the period.
Aneloski made it 2-2, shooting from just inside the blue line, with teammate Brent Gwidt screening goalie Joel Rumpel with 14:35 left in regulation.
UNO’s two man-advantage goals in its previous 21 tries had come with an extra attacker on the ice.
But the momentum was short-lived, as the Badgers scored 27 seconds later. Michael Mersch found Joseph LaBate trailing the play all alone in the slot, and LaBate one-timed the pass past Massa for a 3-2 lead.
Walters tied the game 1-1 by slipping a backhand past Rumpel. It was the 20th goal of the year for the Hobey Baker Award candidate, making him UNO’s first 20-goal scorer since Mick Lawrence had 21 in 2007-08.
The Mavs appeared to take a 2-1 lead with 10:47 left in the opening period as James Polk drove hard to the net from the right wing, with Brian O’Rourke cleaning up the rebound. But, after a lengthy review, the goal was waved off as referees determined Polk had interfered with Rumpel.
Blais disagreed with the ruling.
“Clearly their defenseman knocked James into the (goalie),” Blais said. “There’s no way that goaltender was interfered with if (Polk) wasn’t pushed.”
Wisconsin (14-11-7, 10-7-7) .................... 1 1 2—4
UNO (18-12-2, 14-8-2) ...................... 1 0 2—3
First period: 1, UW, Zengerle 7 (Kerdiles), 3:08. 2, UNO, Walters 20 (Zombo), 7:45.
Second period: 3, UW, Mersch 18 (Schulze), 9:04.
Third period: 4, UNO, Aneloski 5 (Montpetit, Archibald), 5:25. 5, UW, LaBate 6 (Mersch), 5:47. 6, UNO, Sustr 8 (Zombo, Walters), 11:07. 7, UW, Woods 5 (R.Little, Simonelli), 18:18.
Shots on goal:
Wisconsin ................. 11 8 9—28
UNO ................. 6 9 12—27
Power plays: UW 0-2, UNO 2-4.
Penalties-minutes: UW 6-12, UNO 4-8.
Goalies: UW, Rumpel 9-7-4 (27 shots-24 saves), 59:26. UNO, Massa 0-1 (28-24), 59:02.
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