Despite another superb performance from the senior netminder, who played his last game at the Kohl Center, the lackluster Wisconsin attack failed to pick up its end of the task, resulting in a 2-1 loss to No. 3 Colorado College (25-6-3 overall, 18-6-2 Western Collegiate Hockey Association).
"We had a below average offensive night with the puck and that didn't work well for us," Eaves said.
The normally trusty Badger power play unit continued its downward slide, failing to convert on any of its six opportunities.
"Can you spell anemic?" Eaves said rhetorically in describing his team's power play.
As disappointing as the power play exhibition was for Wisconsin, the timing only made it worse.
With less than four minutes left in the game and trailing a goal, the Badgers (21-9-2, 16-7-1) received a stroke of luck when CC's James Brannigan was sent to the penalty box for hooking after dragging down UW center Joe Pavelski. Despite a roaring crowd at their back and the realization that a loss could doom their WCHA title hopes, the Badgers' specialists were stifled by the astute Tiger penalty killers.
"I don't know if a penalty has ever been declined in hockey but I was sure wishing I could throw out a flag and just say, ‘we'll just play five-on-five,'" Eaves said. "It was that tough. I felt bad for the kids. They were trying, they really were. It was just a bad night with the puck."
The Badgers proceeded to pull Bruckler for an extra skater in a last-ditch attempt to salvage a tie, but were again denied and forced to settle for a weekend split.
"The power play was just an extension of issues we had with the puck all night," Eaves said. "It was tough, I felt bad for the kids. They wanted to do the right thing but their poise and confidence just left them."
Perhaps the only satisfied Wisconsinite Saturday was CC junior defenseman Brady Greco. The Madison area native sent a blistering slapshot to the back of the net on a power play at 4:05 of the second period, giving his team its first lead of the weekend on what would become the game-winner.
"I was a little frustrated in the first period," Greco said, "then I came back and buried the opportunity I got in the second period. It felt real good."
The Tiger offense continued its pressuring play from the night before and, though producing only two scores, tested Wisconsin throughout the game. For the weekend CC out-shot its opponent 71-49.
Colorado College received a boost from the return of senior goaltender Curtis McElhinney, who was held out of Friday night's 5-1 drubbing because of a back injury. The senior stopped 23 shots and surrendered only one, shutting down the Badger offense for the final 50 minutes of play.
"He looked big in net and he came out and challenged," CC head coach Scott Owens said. "He gave us a couple of real good saves and then the whole team then kind of fed off that."
The Tigers managed to draw even by the first intermission courtesy of a late goal from junior center Trevor Frischmon, whose well-aimed backhanded floated over Bruckler's shoulder to even the score at 1-1.
Badger sophomore forward Jake Dowell notched the opening score by beating McElhinney one-on-one after intercepting a poor clearing pass attempt from Tiger sophomore defender Lee Sweatt in the UW offensive zone. Dowell took advantage, dekeing past McElhinney and depositing a backhand shot into the net.
However, for just the second time this year the Badgers lost when scoring the opening goal.
The defeat comes despite a strong showing from the UW defense, which denied Colorado College's offensive dynamos – forwards Brett Sterling and Marty Sertich – from notching a single point Saturday. Unfortunately for the Badgers, however, such an effort was not matched on the other end of the ice.
"It's good when you can shut down their top line … but we need offense to build off our defense," UW defender Tom Gilbert said. "You can say we played good defense, but we obviously didn't win tonight."
Wisconsin now faces a Herculean task in its effort to win the McNaughton Cup. The Badgers sit five points behind Colorado College and three behind Denver, courtesy of a surprise 6-3 loss by the Pioneers at Minnesota-Duluth, with only four games to go.
Wisconsin will likely need back-to-back sweeps in their upcoming trips to North Dakota and Minnesota-Duluth to have any shot at the conference crown. After conceding seven of a possible 12 points the last three weekends, however, the Badgers have more to think about than just the title race.
"We have to get to the winning ways consistently, not just lose one, win one, tie one," Bruckler said. "We have to do that down the road. If you're in the NCAAs you have to win back-to-back."