Riding a four-game winning streak and a rising to No. 2 in the national polls this week, the Badgers were beaten handily in every aspect of game, posting a 4-0 loss to the visiting Spartans.
"We just weren't a very good hockey team tonight," Wisconsin coach Mike Eaves said.
Sophomore Brian Elliott received his fourth start of the season in net Friday and never looked comfortable, fighting the puck from the first time it fluttered his way.
Colton Fretter was the biggest beneficiary. Michigan State's junior wing scored the Spartans' first two goals and added an assist on the tally that made it 3-0, chasing Elliot just 6:17 into the second period.
"We changed our goalie. We changed partners on defense. We changed our lines, trying to get something going," a visibly exasperated Eaves said. "It wasn't there. It was one of those nights, like that Motown song, ‘Momma said there'd be nights like this.'"
Michigan State (6-6-1 overall, 3-5-0 Central Collegiate Hockey Association) snapped a two-game losing streak while Wisconsin (9-4-0 overall, 7-3-0 Western Collegiate Hockey Association) lost for the first time since Nov. 6.
"There wasn't that life in the dressing room, to be honest, from the start," UW junior captain Adam Burish said. "There wasn't that jump. There wasn't urgency."
On the opposite end of the rink, Spartan sophomore netminder Dominic Vicari was strong in net, recording 28 saves for his second shutout of this season and ninth of his career. It was the first time Wisconsin was shut out since a 5-0 loss to North Dakota March 8, 2003.
"I thought he was real quick early," Michigan State coach Rick Comley said. "He made a couple of leg saves early and then he made a couple saves standing up. He's been going down a lot so you could tell you was confident."
Elliot entered the game having given up just one goal in three contests and tied for second in the nation with a pair of shutouts. He was outmatched from the start, with Fretter scoring on the Spartans' first shot of the game at 4:24 in the first period, after a UW turnover in its defensive end.
Fretter's power-play shot from above the circle deflected over Elliot's glove at 4:44 in the second period, and Fretter set up sophomore wing Drew Miller's man-advantage goal 93 seconds later. Miller scored from the side of net behind the goal line, bouncing a shot off Elliot's skate.
"I felt pretty good in warm-ups," said Elliot who made just nine saves. "I'm not going to make any excuses. I didn't play very well."
Wisconsin, which boasted the nation's fourth-best penalty kill heading into the game, gave up multiple power-play goals for only the third time this season.
The Badgers' regular starting netminder, senior Bernd Bruckler, spelled Elliot and made 15 saves, allowing one goal. He will start Saturday, when No. 1 Michigan visits the Kohl Center for a 7:07 p.m. faceoff.
Jim Slater recorded the Spartans' fourth goal at 12:58 in third period, beating Bruckler to the blocker side.
The luster of Saturday's No. 1 versus No. 2 matchup faded Friday, as the Wolverines were thumped 5-1 by No. 3 Minnesota.
One clear positive for Wisconsin Friday: the Badgers debuted freshman wing Matt Ford, who shared the U.S. Hockey League's goal-scoring crown with 37 last year. Ford had arthroscopic surgery on his right leg in September. He put two shots on net but was whistled for three minor penalties.
"I think it was a very sobering night for him," Eaves said. "He was very excited to play. He wanted to get out there and do well and things didn't go as he planned. Now he's going to have to regroup and watch some video and learn and get better."
Robbie Earl, Wisconsin's leading scorer, did not play for the first 10 minutes Friday for an undisclosed violation of team rules.
"That was an internal team policy," Eaves said. "That's within our team, it was dealt with and we move forward."
No second thoughts
Eaves did not second-guess his decision to start Elliot Friday rather than All-American Bruckler.
"It's still about the big picture and helping him grow and develop," Eaves said. "He's going to be a better goalie because of tonight."
Time to move on
Perhaps it was too much Thanksgiving turkey and tryptophan, or a hangover from last weekend's road series at Alaska-Anchorage or the Badgers' rise to No. 2 in the polls and a look ahead to No. 1 Michigan, or just getting out played immensely by Michigan State.
Whatever it was, the Badgers were not pleased.
"We have Alaska, we play our very best game," Eaves said. "It's part of being young. It's part of coming back from a road trip. I can't put my finger on it. The best thing about tonight is we play tomorrow night.
"I believe in my heart that our kids will respond and play the way we know they can."