MADISON, Wis. — For the 200th time since the Kohl Center opened for the 1998-99 hockey season, Wisconsin picked up a win in front of its home crowd. The Badgers defeated Michigan State 5-1 on Saturday in front of 11,719 fans, behind a pair of second-period tallies from sophomore captain Luke Kunin.
After claiming a 5-1 victory on Friday night as well, Wisconsin (10-7-1, 3-1-0-0) rolled to it’s first home Big Ten Conference sweep since besting Michigan State Feb. 21-22 during the 2013-14 season.
“We talked about this a lot during the long break,” UW head coach Tony Granato said. “There were a lot of games and weekends where we thought we played really good hockey but only got a split out of it. Tonight, the finishing part that I mentioned earlier, is an important word in our room. Finishing games when the games are on the line, finishing plays, finishing shifts and I thought tonight we were pretty complete and I thought throughout the weekend. I thought last night’s performance was good, but to be able to follow it up tonight was good.”
With Wisconsin outshooting the Spartans 35-24, sophomore netminder Matt Jurusik collected 23 saves in his first game back after an injury kept him out of play since November.
“I think I was on pace that night (I got injured) to have a pretty good performance like tonight,” Jurusik said. “Unfortunately the injury happened. But that’s part of the game. Coming out here and not missing a beat from taking some time out was huge. I think it helped my confidence and the team’s confidence.”
Seamus Malone put the Badgers on the scoreboard before most fans were settled in, sending a snipe over the shoulder of MSU (4-13-1, 0-4-0-0) goaltender Ed Minney just 33 seconds into play.
Senior forward Grant Besse extended his scoring streak to eight games with his assist on Malone’s goal.
Michigan State responded with a power-play goal, as Carson Gatt snuck the puck under Jurusik from a sharp angle to knot the game at one apiece.
Around the halfway point of the first period, Michigan State got a bounce and saw the puck slidebetween Jurusik’s skate and the post. Initially called a goal, a video review showed that Jurusik swept the puck up with his glove before it completely crossed the goal line, preserving the tie score for the remainder of the period.
“I had the best seat in the house, ” Jurusik said. “I know it didn’t go over the line. I was pretty confident coming into that break when they were reviewing it. Fortunately they made the right call and overturned the play. After that I think things settled down in our D zone and were able to control the game.”
“Lets give them credit, the first period they came after us,” Granato said of Michigan State. “They had speed away from the puck, they were energized and they weren’t happy with what happened last night. We were able to settle down and use our speed as the game went on.
“I think that we finally got to our game (in the second period) and used our speed, especially away from the puck, and we were able to keep them on their heels and keep their speed away from them. The first period, they certainly had some jump to their game and I thought we handled it well and as the game went on I thought we were able to play our game.”
Kunin finally opened up the game in period two, notching both of his goals in a three-minute span.
Junior forward Jason Ford fed a backhand pass from below the net to Kunin, who snapped a quick one-timer over Minney’s blocker for the 2-1 lead, 2:45 into the second frame. At the 5:41 mark, with the Badgers on a power play, Kunin sent a slap shot in from the top of the circle for his third two-goal effort in four games.
“Before the game, we talked about getting pucks to the net and bodies towards the net,” Kunin said. “That’s where the goals are scored. We just have to keep doing that and the bounces will go for us.”
Sophomore defenseman Peter Tischke added to the Badgers’ lead in the final period, using Besse as a screen and sending a shot home from the point. Tischke ended the night with a team-best +4 plus/minus rating.
Freshman Max Zimmer picked up assists on both Malone and Tischke’s goals, earning his first multi-point game with Wisconsin.
Junior forward Matt Ustaski rounded out the scoring, putting away his first goal of the season to give the Badgers a 5-1 advantage with five minutes remaining in the game.
The Badgers have a bye next weekend before hosting Minnesota Jan. 20-21. Friday’s game is set for a 7 p.m. start while Saturday will be a 5 p.m. puck drop.