It was Senior Night, though nobody thought it could potentially be the end.
But, after Wisconsin completed a two-game sweep with a convincing 6-2 victory Saturday before 12,146 at the CenturyLink Center, UNO is now facing an increasing possibility that it might not be able to hold on to home ice for the first round of the WCHA playoffs.
The Nos. 13 and 15 Mavericks hit the road to conclude the regular season next weekend at Minnesota-Duluth, still seeking the points they need to play at home in the first round and thus give Bryce Aneloski, John Faulkner and Brent Gwidt at least two more games on home ice.
And now, after starting this weekend tied for third place, they have fallen into sixth, just one point ahead of a Denver team that holds the tiebreaker advantage and is preparing for a home series with last-place Alaska-Anchorage.
The top six teams earn home ice for first-round playoff series.
“We know down the stretch that every game is important,” UNO co-captain Brent Gwidt said. “We’re not hitting the panic button.”
Michael Mersch had two goals and two assists, Mark Zengerle had a goal and three assists and Tyler Barnes had a goal and two assists for the hard-charging, 16th-ranked Badgers, who are 15-4-4 since a 1-7-3 start.
They jumped past UNO into a tie for fourth place with Minnesota State-Mankato with 31 points. UNO has 30. North Dakota and Minnesota are tied for second with 33.
Known for its low-scoring, defensive-minded style, the Badgers could relax Saturday after breaking open a 1-1 game with four goals in the second period and another early in the third.
“It was a funny feeling standing up on the bench in the third period, being up (on the scoreboard) like that,” Wisconsin coach Mike Eaves said. “I can’t remember the last time we had that in a game, so we had to talk about a different mindset going into the third period and how we wanted to play with the lead.”
UNO (18-14-2, 14-10-2 WCHA) lost its fifth straight home game and is 2-5 over its last seven, with the wins coming at cellar-dwelling Alaska-Anchorage.
The four-goal defeat was the worst the Mavs have suffered since losing the opener of last year’s playoff series 4-0 at St. Cloud State.
“Our guys tried to compete and we just didn’t have it,” UNO coach Dean Blais said. “I don’t know if we’re tired. We’ve shortened our practices. ... Maybe we have to be the type of team that has to grind it out no matter what. It is a tough time of year to have this happen to you, to get swept by North Dakota at home and Wisconsin at home.”
No, the Mavs said, they aren’t thinking about last year, when they needed only one point in four home games to end the regular season to clinch home ice but could never get it. But the comparisons are starting to come.
“I feel better about this group,” Blais said. “(But) I thought last year we competed hard. Minnesota and Denver were better than us (last year). Maybe Wisconsin was better than us. We’re going in to Duluth and maybe we’re better than them.
“But one thing is for sure, we’ve got to go in and outwork them if we want to have any chance at home ice.”
Wisconsin (16-11-7, 12-7-7) scored its second-period goals after UNO failed to convert on a five-minute power play.
“I think that was the game,” Blais said. “It took the wind right out of our sails. It cost us, not only on the scoreboard but just mentally.
And the Badgers’ power play — last in the country with a 10.7-percent success rate coming in — scored twice, including the game’s first goal.
“We knew they had struggled a little bit, and we had watched video on it this week,” Gwidt said. “Usually you know what to expect and you have expectations to be pretty good. For them to get two tonight was frustrating.”
UNO had a short-handed 3-on-1 rush that Wisconsin denied, allowing the Badgers to come right back on a 3-on-1 of their own. Barnes scored just 3:03 into the game.
It was just the second road power-play goal of the season for Wisconsin
The Mavs tied it at 13:46 with picturesque passing from their top line of Ryan Walters, Josh Archibald and Dominic Zombo.
Archibald redirected Walters’ pass past Joel Rumpel for his 18th goal of the season. It was Walters’ 28th assist and 48th point of the season.
But Mav highlights were few and far between from that point forward.
“I think 6-2 is probably about how that game went,” Blais said. “Shots were kind of even, but they were stronger on the puck than us.”
Just 13 seconds after UNO’s five-minute power play expired, Jake McCabe’s shot went wide off the end boards, but then trickled back past goalie John Faulkner into the crease, where Ryan Little cleaned up for a 2-1 lead.
Wisconsin scored seven seconds after UNO killed off a penalty to make it 3-1 with eight minutes left in the second period.
“We have to turn around next week,” Walters said. “We’re not falling into the same footsteps (as last year). ... We just had an off weekend.”
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