ST. PAUL- Wisconsin's winning ways at Xcel Energy Center continue in a big way at the expense of Ohio State's season.
Twice the Badgers came back from a two goal deficit while Mark Zengerle gave the Badgers its second consecutive conference tournament championship Saturday night in St. Paul. In a game that more than lived up to the championship stakes at hand, the senior forward scored his tenth goal of the season 7:48 into overtime as Wisconsin defeated the Buckeyes 5-4 for the inaugural Big Ten title in front of what was a partisan UW crowd.
"It's still a little bit of a blue, to be honest with you," said Zengerle, also named Most Outstanding Player, about his goal. "Yeah, the puck was kind of hopping around. People were whacking at it in the front in the slot. I made my way around it, got a little bit of wood on it. I still don't know if it went five hole or between his pads, but it was nice to get that one."
It nearly wasn't all to be, as Ohio State (18-14-5) came out fast in the first period. The Buckeyes, needing a win Saturday to get into the NCAA Tournament, were led twice by leading scorer Ryan Dzingel (Ottawa Senators) in the opening 8:56. The first saw Dzingel beat Badgers goaltender Joel Rumpel on a 2 x 1 and he followed it up later by setting up linemate Nick Oddo against a tired UW third line.
The 2-0 hole was a result of what head coach Mike Eaves said was tough to play to end another team's season.
"They're an unbelievable team, you can tell they didn't want their season to end. They showed that at the start of the game," said Rumpel, who ended the game with 28 saves. "They were burying everything and all their chances, getting it past me a little bit.
"We kind of had a little wakeup call and started playing like we were playing for our lives."
Jake McCabe (Buffalo Sabres) put Wisconsin (24-10-2) on the right path with 22.1 seconds left in the first period. Shooting a wrist shot on the power play past Christian Frey and made OSU defenseman Drew Brevig pay for taking an interference penalty.
In the second period Morgan Zulinick completed the first comeback on the power play with his fourth goal of the season. Clark Cristofoli gave the Buckeyes back the lead less than two minutes later with his first career collegiate goal.
Cristofoli, who also laid a huge hit that began the play for the first goal, epitomized OSU. Playing its third game in three nights, the team continued to go all out even as the gas gauge began to irk closer to "E" right before all hell broke loose.
"When you're playing something like this, feels like the first game of the week," Buckeyes senior captain Curtis Gedig said. "You want it so bad. So we don't have (playing three games in three days) as an excuse."
Tanner Fritz continued his remarkable weekend, scoring a wrist shot to make it 4-2 Ohio State with 6:52 remaining in regulation. What should have been a lead for good, what would have ended other seasons, instead was Wisconsin's finest hour. Once again the Badgers came back..
Only this time it didn't took no time at all.
Jefferson Dahl tapped home his fourth goal of the year on the very next shift - 28 seconds after Fritz. Tyler Barnes didn't need that much. The first line senior was set up by his linemates Zengerle and Nic Kerdiles (Anaheim Ducks), who finished with 3 assists, and got a goal of his own.
By the time the dust settled, the game was tied at 4 with a stretch that included 3 goals in a 48 second span during the third period. Oddo's three point performance (1G-2A) was miles behind.
"We kind of talked about it all year, just responding after a goal. We had one last night. Tonight was kind of the same thing," said Dahl. "Just get the puck, try to out-work them."
That happened. Wisconsin continued to play at a high pace following the two goals. The Badgers had the majority of chances in overtime before the first line came through one last time. Barnes to Kerdiles to Zengerle to red light.
"Very proud of these young men, especially our seniors," Eaves said. "I thought they provided real good leadership on the bench and in the locker room and ultimately they got it done on the ice for us."
With the win, Wisconsin finishes the season fourth in Pairwise, which are used to help determine the NCAA Tournament seedings. Where and who it plays will be decided Sunday morning. ESPNU will host the Selection Show tomorrow at 11 AM Central although early predictions see UW going out to Cincinnati.
It also ends Ohio State's season at the expense of North Dakota (saving UND from what many on social media were dubbing "Siouxicide" - the former Sioux had to get help from Wisconsin and Massachusetts-Lowell, who defeated New Hampshire 4-0 in the Hockey East Championship). Still, Rohlik found a silver lining of motivation in the bitter pill that was an overtime loss.
"Right now it hurts. But to get the experience that our guys got that are coming back, to be one shot away from winning what this is, I think it's a huge building block for us," he said. "Certainly that's what we're going to build on. The guys are going to get a little time off, get back to the school part of things. I think our guys are really going to have a taste in their mouth for wanting to get back to this.
Twice the Badgers came back when it needed to this weekend. From a 1-0 deficit versus Penn State to beginning Saturday's comeback with special teams, when it came time to put Wisconsin away its first line did not go down easy.
Now Wisconsin has to hope the NCAA Tournament goes the same way: with a trophy presentation.
OHIO STATE 1 - Ryan Dzingel (22) (Nick Oddo, Drew Brevig 4:51)
OHIO STATE 2 - Nick Oddo (9) (Nick Schilkey, Ryan Dzingel 8:56)
WISCONSIN 1 - Jake McCabe (8) (Mark Zengerle, Nic Kerdiles 19:37 PP)
WISCONSIN 2 - Morgan Zulinick (4) (Jedd Soleway, Frankie Simonelli 11:24 PP)
OHIO STATE 3 - Clark Cristofoli (1) (Max McCormick, Oddo 12:40)
OHIO STATE 4 - Tanner Fritz (8) (Max McCormick, Clark Cristofoli 13:08)
WISCONSIN 3 - Jefferson Dahl (4) (Morgan Zulinick, Jake McCabe 13:28)
WISCONSIN 4 -Tyler Barnes (13) (Kerdiles, Zengerle 13:56)
WISCONSIN 5 - Mark Zengerle (10) (Tyler Barnes, Kerdiles)
Shots on goal:
OSU 9 - 10 -10- (3) -- 32
UW 10 - 12 - 9 - (5) -- 36
Nathan Wells is a college hockey columnist for SB Nation. You can also follow him on Twitter -- Follow @gopherstate