ANN ARBOR, Mich. — As much as University of Wisconsin men’s hockey players talked about the potential for a turnaround in recent weeks, there never was one in a season that reached its ending point Saturday night.
No. 12 Michigan delivered the knockout, a 7-4 victory over the Badgers at Yost Ice Arena to sweep a Big Ten Conference first-round playoff series.
UW ended its season with a six-game losing streak, having allowed 34 goals, more than 5½ per game, in those contests.
Only once in the program’s 55-year modern era had a season ended with a longer stretch of defeats. That was the 1996-97 team that tied a school record with a nine-game skid punctuated by a four-overtime, 1-0 loss to Colorado College in the final game.
The end was more swift for the Badgers on Saturday.
Michigan’s Dexter Dancs scored twice, the second serving as a heavy blow to UW’s comeback hopes in the final seconds of the second period.
The Badgers will miss the NCAA tournament for the fourth straight season, the first time that has happened since 1987.
“It’s probably up there with the worst feelings ever,” senior forward Ryan Wagner said. “Especially after coming so close last year and then falling in the first round this year. It’s tough.”
Defensive failures cost the Badgers all season, and it was no different in the playoffs.
UW (14-19-4) conceded four goals or more in each of the last six games and in eight of the last nine. After opponents reached the four-goal mark only five times in 21 games before the holiday break, they did so 10 times in 16 games during 2018.
“The numbers do not look good, absolutely right,” Badgers coach Tony Granato said. “We have to be better as a team defensively to win games. ... You can’t give up that many goals and expect to win.”
It wasn’t a heavy volume of shots that did in the Badgers on Saturday — UW led in shots on goal 32-29.
But the timing of Michigan’s goals served to shift momentum.
When it appeared the Badgers were going to be able to make it to the second intermission trailing by only one after twice answering a Wolverines goal, Dancs stuck a dagger into them with 7.7 seconds remaining. His shot from the right side on a rush into the zone beat goalie Jack Berry (22 saves) to the far side for a 5-3 lead.
“It’s a huge goal,” Granato said. “It’s the same thing that’s happened to us a lot this year. Key moments, key times, it ends up in the back of your net.”
Defenseman Griffin Luce scored his first goal of the season 2:24 into the third period to further extinguish UW’s chances.
Matthew Freytag scored with less than five minutes remaining to cut UW’s deficit to two, but Jake Slaker scored into an empty net in the final minute.
After Kyle Hayton allowed six goals on 29 shots — four of them to Tony Calderone and four of them on the power play — the Badgers gave Berry the Game 2 start.
It continued a familiar pattern for UW, which changed starting goalies after each of its last seven losses. Goaltending instability has been a season-long theme, and it carried into the playoffs, with both goalies allowing six scores.
Berry allowed two goals in the first period and three in the second after the Badgers took the lead on the first shift.
“It sucks to go out that way, especially with the seniors on our team,” Berry said. “They’ve given me a great two years and they’ve given their all. To go out like that, it’s tough.”
Trent Frederic snapped a shot past Hayden Lavigne 23 seconds into the game. He later added another goal for 17 in his sophomore season, two more than his debut campaign.
Michigan responded with its top line producing again. Dancs finished off a chance from the slot after UW defenseman Peter Tischke failed to clear the puck, having his attempt deflected by Calderone.
“You need your seniors and juniors to be your leaders this time of year, and I think they’ve stepped up,” Michigan coach Mel Pearson said of Dancs and Calderone, both seniors. “Good for them and good for us. We need it.”
Twenty-two seconds after a Michigan goal was overturned on a video review, the Wolverines pushed another shot past Berry courtesy of former Badgers recruit Jack Becker, a freshman who recorded his third goal against UW this season.
The teams traded goals in the second period, with Brendan Warren, Dakota Raabe and Dancs providing two-goal advantages for the Wolverines (20-13-3).
The Raabe goal for a 4-2 lead was especially tough for UW to swallow because it came just 26 seconds after Cameron Hughes had cut the deficit to one goal, and it was on a 3-on-1 rush out of the Badgers’ end.
But Frederic scored his second goal of the game — his fifth in six games for UW at Yost — midway through the middle period to again bring UW within one.
Seamus Malone and Linus Weissbach failed to convert on breakaway tries to tie the game.
Wisconsin 1 2 1 — 4
Michigan 2 3 2 — 7
First period: W — Frederic 16 (Wagner, Tischke), :23. M — Dancs 9 (Calderone), 4:18; Becker 8 (N. Pastujov, Sanchez), 13:41. Penalty: Hughes, M, 15:19.
Second period: M — Warren 8 (Hughes, Norris), :53. W — Hughes 8 (Weissbach, Baker), 6:08. M — Raabe 4 (Porikos, Cecconi), 6:34. W — Frederic 17 (Weissbach, Greenway), 9:16. M — Dancs 10 (Calderone), 19:52. Penalties: Weissbach, W, 3:52; Kalynuk, W, 9:35.
Third period: M — Luce 1 (Boka, N. Pastujov), 2:24. W — Freytag 9 (Davison), 15:18. M — Slaker 14 (Cecconi, Norris), 19:42. Penalty: Marody, M, 3:19.
Saves: W (Berry 4-11-7) 22; M (Lavigne 4-11-13) 28.
Power plays: W 0-for-2; M 0-for-2. Att. — 4,217.