ST. Paul, Minn. (AP) — When they started the season 1-7-2, hopes for competing in postseason tournaments seemed faint for the Wisconsin Badgers.
Now, No. 14 Wisconsin is trying to keep its NCAA hopes alive while trying to end its tenure in the WCHA on a high note.
Jefferson Dahl scored a pair of shorthanded goals, and Tyler Barnes added two goals and an assist as the Badgers (20-12-7) beat No. 8 Minnesota State 7-2 in the first round of the WCHA Final Five tournament on Thursday at the Xcel Energy Center. Nic Kerdiles, Frankie Simonelli and Joseph Labate also scored for Wisconsin, which has won eight of its past 10 games and scored 39 goals over that span.
"It's a flow-and-ebb type of thing and we're in a flow right now," Badgers coach Mike Eaves said of the team's offense. "Early in the year, we had very little at times. So, we've got the flow going right now and what we need to do is try to extend that as long as we can by doing the things that help — get pucks and bodies to the net and if we can continue with that flow, that's a good thing to be having at this time of the year."
Goaltender Joel Rumpel made 38 saves to help Wisconsin advance to Friday's semifinals against St. Cloud State, the WCHA's co-regular-season champions with Minnesota. This year's tournament marks the final time the Final Five will be played in its current format, with Minnesota and Wisconsin joining the Big Ten conference next season.
The Badgers hope to keep their WCHA run going, and secure a spot in the NCAA tournament, which is no sure thing after the slow start. Wisconsin started the season without Kerdiles, a freshman who was a second-round pick by the Anaheim Ducks in the NHL draft last year, because he was suspended 10 games for interaction with an agent. Mark Zengerle, the team's top returning scorer, missed six games with an injury.
A highly-productive offense has at least got the Badgers on the bubble, even after being outshot 40-27 on Thursday and giving up two goals to MSU on nine power-plays.
Dahl started the scoring just 1:03 into the game and Wisconsin scored three goals in the first 8:11. Dahl nearly had a shorthanded hat trick, with another tally being wiped out after a video review.
"Just the way we preach every game; have a good start and outwork them, win battles and races," Dahl said. "Last weekend too, we kind of started out on fire by getting pucks at the goalie's feet and rebounds we had. Fortunately again, pucks were able to find the net."
Zach Palmquist and Eriah Hayes scored for the Mavericks (24-13-3), who had won eight of their past 11 games and appear a lock for the NCAA tournament. Freshman goaltender Stephon Williams, who was named the WCHA's rookie of the year last week, started and allowed five goals on 19 shots, including three on the first six he faced.
"It wasn't the start that we were looking for," MSU coach Mike Hastings said. "And obviously I think that combined with them smelling a little blood in the water was why it didn't get done tonight."
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