Friday night, second-place Denver, the erstwhile favorite to win the McNaughton Cup, lost a startling 8-5 decision to Minnesota State, opening the door for the Badgers.
Saturday, though, Wisconsin struggled behind an inept power play and was unable to match North Dakota's offensive output. The Badgers (16-8-1 WCHA, 21-10-2 overall) are now eliminated from McNaughton Cup contention.
Denver bounced back Saturday night to defeat Minnesota State and move into a first-place tie with idle Colorado College with 38 points. Wisconsin is five points back and has three games left to play, beginning with a rematch with North Dakota at 3:35 p.m. Sunday. But Colorado College and Denver close the season with a home-and-home set next weekend, meaning that the WCHA champ will finish with at least 40 points.
While the Badgers can still cling to an outside shot at second place, they need to watch their rearview mirror, where Minnesota is closing fast from its fourth-place position. The Gophers swept St. Cloud State this weekend, moving within two points of UW. Minnesota has, however, played one more game than the Badgers.
Saturday, at the Ralph Englestad Arena in Grand Forks, N.D., Wisconsin took a 2-1 lead on sophomore forward Ross Carlson's unassisted goal at 14:22 in the first period.
Just 1:30 later, however, UND sophomore forward Erik Fabian scored his first goal of the season to knot the game at 2-2.
Senior defenseman Matt Jones tallied the game-winner midway through the second period, notching his second power-play goal of the season.
Wisconsin, meanwhile, continued to suffer on the man advantage. The Badgers were 0-for-5 on the power play, taking just five power-play shots in the game. In man-up opportunities in the third period, UW took one shot.
The Badgers are 1-for-25 on the power play in their last five games and 4-for-48 in their last nine games.
Senior netminder Bernd Bruckler made 21 saves before UW emptied its net late in the third period; Sioux junior defenseman Matt Greene took advantage, scoring an empty-net insurance goal with 29 seconds left to play.
Sophomore netminder Jordan Parise made 26 saves for the Sioux.
North Dakota got on the board first, when senior defenseman Nick Fuher scored on a 4-on-4 at 6:12 in the first period. Fuher assisted on Fabian's equalizer nearly 10 minutes later.
UW junior defenseman Tom Gilbert tied the game at 1-1 at 8:25 in the first.
The win boosted North Dakota's chances for an NCAA Tournament berth. The Sioux (12-12-1, 17-13-3) are currently tied for No. 11 in the Pairwise rankings. UW remained No. 7.
Wisconsin lost for the fourth straight time at North Dakota. The Badgers had, however, won four straight contests in the series prior to Saturday.