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Loss ends UMD's season, and its 48-year stay in the WCHA

MADISON - A 48-year stay in the Western Collegiate Hockey Association was on the line Saturday night as Minnesota Duluth fought for its life in the first round of the league playoffs.

UMD lost Friday's opener in the best-of-three series with Wisconsin and needed a victory at the Kohl Center to continue its season.

But from the start, this was not a night for the Bulldogs. Three first-period goals, two in 81 seconds in the first five minutes, led No. 14-ranked Wisconsin to a 4-1 victory before an announced crowd of 10,104. That puts the Badgers (19-12-7) in the WCHA Final Five quarterfinals Thursday at St. Paul's Xcel Energy Center.

UMD (14-19-5) fell behind 2-0 early and could not find its game. After allowing three goals on six shots in the first eight minutes, starting goalie Aaron Crandall was replaced by freshman Matt McNeely.

The Bulldogs, who joined the league in 1965-66, had advanced to the WCHA Final Five four straight years and were in the NCAA tournament the past two. They will be part of the new eight-team National Collegiate Hockey Conference in 2013-14. Wisconsin will move to the Big Ten Conference.

UMD placed ninth in the WCHA regular-season standings and Wisconsin tied for fourth. The Badgers were 4-0-1 against UMD this season, and are 6-0 all time at home against UMD in the playoffs (including sweeps in 1978 and 1991).

Center Jefferson Dahl got to a loose puck in the slot 2:48 into the game and fired for his fifth goal of the season. Another loose puck was converged on by about six players in the UMD crease moments later and Wisconsin scoring leader Michael Mersch somehow muscled in a shot for his 23rd goal of the season at 4:09.

Before Wisconsin had time to celebrate a 2-0 lead, UMD's Justin Crandall let loose with a shot that beat sophomore goalie Joel Rumpel. That cut the deficit to 2-1 just 32 seconds after the Mersch score.

The Badgers are the second-best defensive team in the WCHA, allowing just 2.08 goals a game, but the Badgers were unrelenting on offense for the rest of the opening period. And when rookie defenseman Kevin Schulze whizzed an attempt from high atop the left circle, for a 3-1 lead at 7:53, Aaron Crandall was replaced. He had allowed just three goals total in his past three starts.

A scoreless second period had UMD outshooting Wisconsin 11-8. Tyler Barnes scored from the crease, all alone, with 9:21 left in the game. Wisconsin led 35-30 in shots on goal.

The Bulldogs went 4-2-1 in their last seven games, while Wisconsin is 7-2 the past nine.

UMD's seniors in their final game were Keegan Flaherty, Mike Seidel, Drew Olson, Dan DeLisle, Jake Hendrickson and Wade Bergman.

Junior winger Joe Basaraba was back in UMD's lineup after being sick during the week, while senior captain Cody Danberg was out with an injury after taking a third-period hit Friday.

The Final Five opens with Thursday quarterfinal games at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m.