The situation was nothing new for the University of Wisconsin men’s hockey team.
The Badgers put themselves in the position of having to rebound from a series-opening loss a handful of times in the first 10 weeks of the season, so the feeling on Saturday, while frustrating, had to be familiar.
With the country’s fourth-ranked team carrying a 12-game winning streak on the other side of the ice, however, this was an assignment — and a result — unlike the others.
Notre Dame got three goals from Cal Burke and two from Dennis Gilbert to go with 39 saves from Cale Morris in a 6-2 victory over the 12th-ranked Badgers at the Kohl Center.
The Fighting Irish earned their first sweep in Madison in 14 tries and improved to 5-0-1 in their past six games here, dating to 1997 at the Dane County Coliseum.
The losses took the Badgers (10-9-2, 4-5-1 Big Ten) into a three-week break at just one game over .500 and sinking in the Big Ten Conference standings.
“It’s not great timing,” said Badgers coach Tony Granato said, who conceded his team was outplayed in the third period despite a heavy shots advantage. “Last night’s game was probably good enough to win. Tonight’s wasn’t.”
In five of the first nine series of the season, UW lost the first game of the series but gained either a victory or a tie in the rematch.
Those splits were the reason why UW was only able to hover around .500 as the break for final exams approached.
The Badgers couldn’t continue their recovery trend on Saturday, however, and were swept for the first time this season. UW had a 17-7 advantage in shots on goal in the third but saw Notre Dame enjoy a 3-0 goals advantage in the final 20 minutes for a second straight game.
“It just comes down to the fact that we can’t close games right now,” Badgers forward Sean Dhooghe said.
UW fell to 4-6-2 since the start of November after a 6-3 start in October. And it entered the break just 5-6-2 at the Kohl Center.
Even though the Badgers became the first team this season to score more than one goal against him on back-to-back nights, Morris improved to 15-1 this season for Notre Dame (16-3-1, 10-0).
“He’s been rock solid for us for the last two months,” Fighting Irish coach Jeff Jackson said of his sophomore, who became the every-night starter early this season. “Not many people would have predicted it. I’m not sure I would have predicted it.”
The Irish, in their first season as a member of the Big Ten Conference for men’s hockey, have gone an unprecedented 10 league games without a loss.
“It’s been every different situation,” Jackson said. “I can’t explain it, but I’ll try to stay out of the way.”
Burke, who gave Notre Dame a 1-0 lead with a first-period power-play goal, provided a 3-2 advantage in the second period. He collected the puck after a turnover behind the net by UW’s Tarek Baker and beat Kyle Hayton (23 saves).
Burke, a sophomore, finished his hat trick on a breakaway for a 5-2 lead with 4:37 remaining.
Hayton’s winless streak reached four games, and he allowed five goals for the second time in as many starts and for the third time this season.
Granato said he doesn’t know what has caused the struggles for Hayton, an All-American last season at St. Lawrence.
“When you’re a goalie and you have an inconsistent year, you see it,” Granato said.
The Badgers revamped their fourth line after Friday’s 3-2 loss to the Irish, bringing Matt Ustaski, Jason Ford and Cullen Hurley into the lineup on Saturday. That group brought UW even in the first period when Hurley set up Peter Tischke’s first goal of the season.
Gilbert scored on a 3-on-2 short-handed rush for Notre Dame, but Ryan Wagner responded with a power-play goal less than four minutes later for the Badgers.
Notre Dame 1 2 3 — 6
Wisconsin 1 1 0 — 2
First period: ND — Burke 10 (Morrison, Oglevie), 5:27 (pp). W — Tischke 1 (Hurley, Ford), 10:15. Penalties: Oglevie, ND, :50; Wagner, W, 1:46; Bench, W, 3:55; O’Leary, ND, 5:46.
Second period: ND — Gilbert 2 (Jenkins), 4:46 (sh). W — Wagner 8 (S. Dhooghe, Kalynuk), 8:25 (pp). ND — Burke 11, 14:16. Penalties: Gross, ND, 3:27; Morrison, ND, 7:30; Baker, W, 10:16.
Third period: ND — Gilbert 3 (Malmquist, Oglevie), 10:55; Burke 12 (Morrison), 15:23; O’Leary 2, 17:40 (en). Penalties: Gilbert, ND (double-minor), 16:03; S. Dhooghe, W (double-minor), 16:03; Frederic, W, 16:03; Evans, ND, 16:16.
Saves: ND (Morris 10-12-17) 39; W (Hayton 9-10-4) 23. Power plays: ND 1-for-4; W 1-for-5. Att. — 11,934.