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Senior Special: Special teams helps UW send off seniors in style

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Michigan State 8 Wisconsin 2, Michigan State 0
Kohl Center • Madison, Wis. • Attendance: 15,359

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1st 2nd 3rd Final
 Michigan State
1 0 1 2
1 2 2 5
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 Scoring Summary
1st 7:17 WIS LaBate (Schulze, Simonelli)
2nd 4:23 WIS Mersch (Zengerle, Barnes)
 Goaltender Summary Min GA Sv
MSU Hildebrand (8-13-7) 58:30 2 28
MSU Empty Net 1:30 0 0
WIS Rumpel (16-4-1) 60:00 0 31
 Statistical Comparison
 Shots on Goal 31 30
 Power Plays 0-5 2-5
 Penalties-Minutes 9-18 9-18
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Feb. 22, 2014

MADISON, Wis.  -- A to-do list for the Wisconsin men's hockey team coming into its final home series of the year would likely have contained at least three items. First, send off the team's nine seniors on top. Second, improve a sputtering power play, and third, extend the team's hot streak on the penalty kill. Check, check and check.

The No. 8 Badgers (19-9-2, 10-5-1-0 Big Ten) did all that and more, riding their special teams to a 2-0 win over the Spartans (9-15-7, 3-7-6-4 Big Ten), and cementing the sweep, all the while earning head coach Mike Eaves his 250th career win at Wisconsin in the process.

The effort made it 17 home wins this season for Wisconsin, the most in a single season in the Kohl Center era, and pulled the Badgers within a point of Big Ten-leading Minnesota. Fittingly, it came in front of a sellout crowd of 15,359, making it the second home sellout of the season for UW.

 Fast Facts
• 17 home wins this season most in Kohl Center history
Mike Eaves wins 250th game as Wisconsin head coach
• Rumpel's ninth career shutout ties for second in UW history

It was a pair of power-play goals that proved to be the difference for UW, with one coming from Joseph LaBate (Eagan, Minn.) in the first period and another courtesy of Michael Mersch (Park Ridge, Ill.) in the second.

That would be all the Badgers would need, as Joel Rumpel (Swift Current, Saskatchewan) and the UW penalty kill shut out the Spartans to preserve the victory.

The shutout was the ninth of Rumpel's career, moving him into a three-way tie for second place in program history alongside Terry Kleisinger and Graham Melanson. The junior made 31 saves to keep MSU off the board and earn his 16th victory of the season.

"I think that as good as Joel (Rumpel) was tonight, he looked so calm doing it," Eaves said. "He was big back there."

Credit Wisconsin's penalty with an assist, though.

The unit kept the Spartans scoreless on five power-play tries, giving it 42 successful penalty kills in its last 43 chances.

On the other hand, Wisconsin's power play managed multiple goals for the second-straight game, finishing 2-for-5. That made it the first series in which the Badgers scored multiple power-play goals in each game since Nov. 25-26, 2011 against Mercyhurst.  

"The power play was productive," Eaves said. "It produced goals on a night that they were hard to come by. And we get four for the weekend, which we haven't done in quite a while, so that's a positive."

LaBate got the scoring started when he took a pass from Kevin Schulze (White Bear Lake, Minn.) at the high slot and fired the puck off a Spartan defender and into the net. The shot gave UW a 1-0 lead 7:17 into the first frame. Frankie Simonelli (Bensenville, Ill.) had the secondary assist to extend his point-scoring streak to a career-high six games.

Mersch got in on the act a period later with his third power-play goal of the series when Tyler Barnes (Eagan, Minn.) took a Mark Zengerle (Rochester, N.Y.) feed behind the net and found Mersch just outside the crease for a redirect goal.

The goal came 4:23 into the second period and moved Zengerle into a ninth-place tie with Doug Macdonald on the Wisconsin leader board with his 114th-career assist.

The win caps a 17-2-1 record at home for Wisconsin this season, the second-best single-season winning percentage in school history at .875. Only the 1972-73 NCAA championship team had a better home record with a 19-1-0 mark at the Dane County Coliseum (.950).

The Badgers take their final bye of the season next weekend before returning to the ice on March 7-8 with their first-ever trip to Penn State.

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