Badgers men’s hockey: Luke Kunin leads way as Wisconsin finishes off sweep of Michigan State
There were any number of explanations floated for why the University of Wisconsin men’s hockey team couldn’t string together a second straight positive result on recent Saturdays.
Maybe there wasn’t enough left in the tank after strong efforts on the Fridays. Maybe the Badgers took things for granted and were in the wrong frame of mind, or didn’t match the opponent’s intensity.
Put again in that familiar position of being able to complete a weekend without a loss, the Badgers finally converted on Saturday.
Captain Luke Kunin, refreshed by a day off after winning gold with the United States at the World Junior Championship, scored two second-period goals to spark UW to a 5-1 victory over Michigan State at the Kohl Center.
After four straight Saturday night losses following a victory or tie on Friday, the Badgers put that nagging narrative to rest.
“The finishing part of it is an important word in our room right now,” Badgers coach Tony Granato said. “Finishing the games when the games are on the line. Finishing plays. Finishing shifts. And I thought tonight we were pretty complete, and, really, throughout the weekend.”
Combined with another 5-1 victory on Friday, UW also ended a long drought without a Big Ten Conference sweep, one that dated to March 7-8, 2014. The last time the Badgers won both ends of a home league series was Feb. 21-22, 2014, also against Michigan State.
Kunin scored on his only two shots on goal of the second period to help the Badgers toward their 200th victory in 369 games at the Kohl Center and into an early three-way tie for first place in the Big Ten standings.
Jason Ford delivered an accurate backhand pass from behind the net to a wide-open Kunin in front to break a 1-1 tie 2:45 into the period.
On a power play less than 3 minutes later, Kunin wound up for a one-timer on a Tim Davison pass and beat Spartans goaltender Ed Minney after the puck changed course off the stick of defenseman Mitch Eliot.
It was Kunin’s third two-goal game in his last four outings for the Badgers and his fourth of the season.
“It felt great being back out there with the guys, and it was a great weekend for us,” Kunin said.
After freshman Jack Berry stopped 25 shots in Friday’s victory, Matt Jurusik got his first start for the Badgers since he suffered a right knee injury Nov. 19 against Merrimack.
In that outing, the sophomore was seeking a strong performance that had been elusive. Instead, he saw his first half of the season come to an early end.
The Badgers (10-7-1, 3-1 Big Ten) staked him to a lead Saturday when Seamus Malone scored 33 seconds into the game from a Max Zimmer pass.
Jurusik made four good saves early but the fifth bounced in off the inside of his pad from a sharp-angle shot by defenseman Carson Gatt to push the Spartans (4-13-1, 0-4) into a 1-1 tie.
The Badgers were saved by quick Jurusik glove hand and a video review later in the first period after another fluky bounce.
Taro Hirose’s centering pass from the right corner redirected off Badgers center Matt Ustaski’s skate and toward Jurusik. The puck hit the goaltender’s left pad and crawled behind him.
The on-ice call was that the puck made it over the line for a goal, but an overhead video replay didn’t show any space between the puck and the red line before Jurusik’s glove got in the way.
When the referees returned with a no-goal decision, Spartans coach Tom Anastos — also the chair of the NCAA hockey rules committee — gave them an earful at the bench.
“I don’t think the refs made a really good call on that,” Spartans captain Joe Cox said. “Coach Anastos made a really good argument on the bench to them. Those things are going to happen in games, and we’ve just got to do a better job of rebounding from that.”
Said Jurusik: “I had the best seat in the house, and I know that didn’t go over the line.”
Jurusik was steady the rest of the way, denying Cox on a short-handed breakaway with the game tied at 1 early in the second period en route to a 23-save victory.
“Coming out here and not really missing a beat from taking some time off was huge,” he said.
Peter Tischke and Matt Ustaski scored in the third period to give the Badgers their eighth game with five or more goals scored this season, one more than the previous two seasons combined.
After Kunin’s goals gave UW a two-goal lead in the second, the Badgers faced an extended penalty kill when Davison was ejected for hitting from behind.
UW’s Cullen Hurley, Patrick Sexton and Kunin blocked shots and Jurusik made one save during the power play before a holding-the-stick penalty to Michigan State’s Logan Lambdin ended the advantage.
The Kunin block was a tone-setter, Granato said.
“That said a lot to our team,” he said. “I think that set the energy and the commitment to keep the puck out of out net for the rest of the game for everybody on our squad.”
Michigan State 1 0 0 — 1
Wisconsin 1 2 2 — 5
First period: W — Malone 7 (Zimmer, Besse), :33. M — Gatt 3 (Appleton, Holland), 3:41 (pp). Penalties: Hurley, W, 1:51; Frederic, W, 17:22; Osburn, M, 18:42.
Second period: W — Kunin 12 (Ford, Hughes), 2:45; Kunin 13 (Davison, Frederic), 5:41 (pp). Penalties: Frederic, W, :30; Cox, M, :30; Gatt, M, 5:04; Eliot, M, 8:17; Davison, W (major, game misconduct), 9:08; Lambdin, M, 13:33.
Third period: W — Tischke 2 (Zimmer, Sexton), 7:58; Ustaski 1 (Wagner, Johnson), 14:59. Penalties: Sanford, M, 2:33; Stenglein, M, 10:03.
Saves: M (Minney 8-9-13) 30; W (Jurusik 11-7-5) 23. Power plays: M 1-for-3; W 1-for-6. Att. — 11,719.