The Frozen Four field is set.
Wisconsin 3, Providence 0
The Badgers held Providence without a shot on goal for nearly half the game – 29:04 to be exact – and out-shot the Friars 44-12 over the course of the contest in a dominant show of passing and possession to earn their record-setting seventh straight trip to the Frozen Four.
The first period, particularly, was a nearly textbook display of what Wisconsin does so well. They held the zone, prevented any breakouts from the Friars, won battles in the neutral zone and moved the puck at will in the offensive end.
That it was only a 1-0 game after the opening frame lies almost solely on the shoulders of Providence goalie Sandra Abstreiter, who matched a career-high of 41 saves in the game. She was simply superb, handling the Badgers' shots from outside and stonewalling the breakaway chances they got in close on her. She nabbed pucks out of the air and was masterful in using her pads to deaden shots.
Especially early, as the teams felt each other out and Wisconsin was searching for lanes towards the net, the Friars' defense was stellar, blocking 10 shots and stymying anything the Badgers tried to do.
But Wisconsin was patient. As a team, they are used to playing similar defensive teams in the WCHA. They finally lit the lamp with seven minutes to go in the first. Senior Brette Pettet's shot from distance hit Abstreiter's stick with a thunk and deflected into the net to make it a 1-0 game.
Providence coach Matt Kelly noted his team may have been a bit "star struck" early in the game. The Friars barely had room to breathe, much less shake off their nerves under the pressure applied by Wisconsin. But the team started to find their rhythm in the second. Once the registered their first shot on goal, they quickly added four more as they seemed to remember who they were and what they were capable of. Their confidence grew and they spent the closing minutes of the period putting Wisconsin on the defensive, something they hadn't had to do for more than half the game. That knocked the Badgers a little off kilter and they were in desperate need of a reset as they headed to the locker room.
"I think they had one or two chances, and all of a sudden they start getting a little bit of momentum and having some confidence. It also comes down to the fact that half our team hasn't played in the national tournament before. When we're playing the first period on their end, and then all of a sudden, they get a few good chances, it's easy to hold your stick pretty tight," said Wisconsin's Britta Curl. "After the second period in the locker room [we said] – All right, guys, we know how to play D zone. We've played against the top five teams in the country a handful of times, so let's just get back to the basics because we know what to do."
Less than four minutes into the third, Curl stripped a Providence player of the puck on the boards behind the net. Sophie Shirley immediately started calling for it in front of the net. It was a rare misstep for the Friars on defense and there were no bodies in the crease. Shirley crashed and went down on one knee as she one-timed a shot past Abstreiter.
"One thing I've learned, especially on a rink size that we're playing on, is if a puck is behind your net, [as] the defending team, it's not good, because it doesn't take long for it to get out to the scoring area," said Wisconsin coach Mark Johnson.
Shirley scored an empty-net goal to ice the win by weaving the puck through traffic, giving her two for the night to lead the team. (While Providence had pulled their goalie, Shirley's tally was still even strength due to a penalty by Wisconsin.)
"If you're going to be successful, your better players have to be good," said Johnson. "[Sophie Shirley] can make a difference in a game and certainly did this afternoon."
Wisconsin will face familiar foe Ohio State in their semifinal Thursday night, which will air live on ESPNU. The teams have faced off five times this season, splitting their regular season series two games to two. The Badgers eked out an overtime victory just over a week ago to edge the Buckeyes and take the WCHA tournament crown.
Ohio State 3, Boston College 1
This was the quarterfinal game many people surmised was most ripe for an upset, but Ohio State scored three unanswered goals to earn their second-ever trip to the Frozen Four.
Boston College came out quickly in the first period, using their speed to get around defenders and making Ohio State look a bit like the were floundering early on. The Buckeyes had a slow start and took most of the first period to really settle into their game plan and look the part of the #3 team in the country.
This was a physical game as both teams used their bodies to protect the puck. There were five infractions called in the first period and the consistent switch from full strength to special teams didn't seem to help Ohio State get comfortable on the ice.
The Eagles were able to strike first with a sharp shot from Savannah Norcross for her team-leading 11th goal on the season. Her shot hit off the crossbar into the net to make it 1-0 for BC.
It was clear the Buckeyes started to be more themselves toward the end of the frame and they were able to carry that into the second, where they just took over the game. OSU outshot Boston College 43-8 over the final two frames. It was a dominant showing from the Buckeyes after a slow start.
"That was a very, very good team and came out strong in the second, and put a couple of us and I think we couldn't recover in the third," said Boston College coach Katie Crowley. "Overall I thought we had a great first period, but just couldn't maintain that for the second. Then, I thought we came back pretty hard in the third. I love the effort that my team gave. I love the effort and the grit."
Despite the loss, Crowley was content with her team's showing, noting they have just one senior and a number of freshman getting a lot of minutes. The learning curve was steep, but now BC knows what to expect in the future and Crowley hopes this tournament berth was the start of another positive cycle for the Eagles.
Ohio State was successful on Tuesday once they were able to use their size and speed to get position on the net. Their goals came from second- and third-chance opportunities with loose pucks around the goal mouth.
Brook Bink scored the game winner by finding a narrow spot of light between the goalie and the goal posts. She was able to bury the rebound to make it 2-1.
Tatum Skaggs said the Buckeyes believe "any shot is a good shot" and work on getting pucks to the net because they never know what will happen once it's there. Though they're not always accurate with their attempts, Tuesday's game proved how important it is to just keep moving the puck forward – Ohio State's third goal came when a puck was dumped into the zone from near the benches so there could be a line change. Instead, it caromed off the back boards and somehow ended up behind BC goalie Abigail Levy.
As mentioned above, Ohio State and Wisconsin will meet for the sixth time this season in the semifinal on Thursday.
Game times for both semifinals on Thursday are still TBA.
(Photo: Rob Hunt/UW Athletics)