ANN ARBOR, Mich. — There was no humor in it for the University of Wisconsin men’s hockey team, not when the result pushed its season to the brink.
But the funny thing Friday was that the Badgers outplayed No. 12 Michigan, led by two goals at one point, rallied from a two-goal deficit to tie and still couldn’t win a series opener.
Tony Calderone scored four times, and the Wolverines were 4-for-5 on the power play in a 6-5 victory in the first game of a best-of-three Big Ten Conference playoff series at Yost Ice Arena.
About all the Badgers could do afterward was bemoan another wasted opportunity in a season that has become littered with them.
“It’s been a challenging year,” said Badgers senior Ryan Wagner, who scored twice. “There’s definitely some slips. But it’s a new season. ... I thought we fought hard this game.”
UW, which fell to 1-7 in series openers in 2018, needs to win tonight to force a deciding Game 3 on Sunday or its season will end on a deflating losing streak.
In suffering a fifth straight loss Friday, the Badgers allowed a 3-1 first-period lead to turn into a 5-3 deficit with a quartet of Michigan power-play goals in a 10:06 span.
After UW rallied to tie behind man-advantage goals of their own by Linus Weissbach in the second period and Wagner in the third, Calderone delivered the final blow with 8:53 remaining.
Quinn Hughes sent a pass from behind the net that Calderone hammered past Badgers goalie Kyle Hayton for a 6-5 lead.
“To be honest, we’ve parked that game,” Badgers captain Cameron Hughes said afterward. “It is what it is. We’re moving on to tomorrow. That’s all we can do at this point.”
In an unpredictable contest in which UW scored as many goals as it had in the previous four games combined, the penalty kill was the biggest hole in the Badgers’ effort.
Calderone’s goals bookended strikes by Jake Slaker and Quinn Hughes for the Wolverines, who were 1-for-12 on the man advantage in their final four Big Ten regular-season games.
Badgers players credited Michigan for finding seams in UW’s four-man unit. Three of the goals were after Wolverines players were able to take one-timers; the fourth was an open shot from the slot by Quinn Hughes that beat Hayton (23 saves) high.
“We tried not to get too down on ourselves because we know that the next penalty that we get, we have to try to kill off,” said defenseman Peter Tischke, who was on the ice for three of the goals. “But it just kept adding up and adding up.”
It was the first time the Badgers allowed four power-play goals since Oct. 28, 2011, a 5-4 loss to Omaha.
“They didn’t have a whole lot of sustained zone time — they didn’t need it,” UW coach Tony Granato said. “They made their play and they were able to score on the first chance.”
UW (14-18-4) jumped ahead 3-1 in the first period on goals 4:05 apart by Tyler Inamoto, Matthew Freytag and Wagner, leaving the Wolverines (19-13-3) looking momentarily shellshocked.
But a penalty by UW’s Weissbach, two by Tim Davison and a bench minor for too many men on the ice turned the game around, and it was then UW’s turn to be stunned.
Calderone completed his hat trick for a 5-3 lead — and made the Wolverines 4-for-4 with the man advantage — 3:20 into the second period off a cross-ice pass from Quinn Hughes.
Still, UW outshot Michigan 53-29 and had 94 shot attempts to the Wolverines’ 44.
“We were very fortunate to win this game tonight,” Michigan coach Mel Pearson said. “Our power play that’s been average as of late really bailed us out in this game. ... We were outplayed in a lot of different facets of the game tonight.”
UW was given a window to rally in the middle period when Michigan’s Brendan Warren was ejected for a hit to the head on UW’s Matt Ustaski. There was no infraction called initially, but after the next whistle 45 seconds later, referees watched a replay of the hit, something that’s allowed only in postseason play.
The Badgers peppered the Michigan net during the five-minute power play, and Weissbach got a shot through Hayden Lavigne (48 saves) to cut Michigan’s lead to 5-4.
An ill-advised penalty by Wolverines center Nick Pastujov for elbowing Wagner as the second period ended set up the Badgers with another power play to start the third. Wagner scored to draw even for UW’s second power-play goal after going 0-for-19 in the previous four-plus games.
The Badgers had another man advantage after the midway point of the third period but didn’t convert. Then they saw Calderone strike again to give Michigan the lead again and erase UW’s margin for error in the series.
“Our message is simple: The team that can recover and forget this game as quick as you can has the best chance of winning tomorrow,” Granato said. “If we can play the same way that we did ... then we’ve got a chance.”
Wisconsin 3 1 1 — 5
Michigan 4 1 1 — 6
First period: M — Calderone 20 (Marody, Cecconi), 2:40. W — Inamoto 1 (Malone), 3:58; Freytag 8 (Malone, Kalynuk), 6:59; Wagner 14 (Frederic, Tischke), 8:03. M — Calderone 21 (Hughes, Cecconi), 13:14 (pp); Slaker 13 (Piazza, L. Martin), 16:22 (pp); Hughes 4 (Marody), 18:09 (pp). Penalties: Weissbach, W, 12:12; Davison, W, 15:56; Bench, W, 17:17.
Second period: M — Calderone 22 (Hughes, Cecconi), 3:20 (pp). W — Weissbach 10 (Kalynuk, Wagner), 10:00 (pp). Penalties: Davison, W, 1:53; Warren, M (major, game misconduct), 6:49; Weissbach, W (misconduct), 11:42; Hughes, M, 12:17; Baker, W, 12:17; Hayton, W, 17:17; N. Pastujov, M, 20:00.
Third period: W — Wagner 15 (Hughes, Frederic), 1:13 (pp). M — Calderone 23 (Marody, Hughes), 11:07. Penalty: N. Pastujov, M, 8:20.
Saves: W (Hayton 7-10-6) 2;3 M (Lavigne 16-15-17) 48. Power plays: W 2-for-4; M 4-for-5. Att. — 3,411.