For the Wisconsin contingency, however, they could not have asked for more as goalie Brian Elliott continued to stand tall in net, stopping 29 shots as the No. 1 Badgers held on for a 3-2 victory over No. 5 Colorado College.
"These are the games that are fun to play. These games help you prepare for the end of the year," UW coach Mike Eaves said. "It was a great environment."
A.J. Degenhardt continued his hot streak and UW senior captain Adam Burish—who had been the talk of the town heading into the game due to a controversial hit at the end of a game between these two teams in November—only fueled the fire by netting the game-winning goal.
"That's a championship-feeling game," UW Burish said. "That's the way it felt. That had the feeling that we're going to see later on in the year. That was a team victory. We have a hard hat we give out and we gave it to the team today."
Indeed it was an impressive team victory in a game that felt like it was being played in March rather than in January.
The Badgers got out to a quick start and got some help from Elliott early on.
Degenhardt made Matt Zaba pay the price after he gave up a series of rebounds, finding the back of the net less than three minutes into the game.
The senior winger benefited from a rebound off a Matt Ford wrister, put one shot on Zaba from the right circle and then followed his shot in and put the rebound home to give UW an early lead.
It was Degenhardt's fourth point in the last three games after not scoring in limited action in the first half of the year.
"It was obviously frustrating not playing," Degenhardt said. "I'm getting the chance now … and I'm just trying to show what I can do when I'm out there and make the most of every shift."
The Badgers staved off the first Tiger power play of the night, but put Elliott in some bad situations in the middle stages of the opening stanza.
"I saw more shinpads out there than pucks. That's what they were trying to do, get a lot of bodies to the net," Elliott said. "It's definitely an advantage to be a bigger guy in net."
The Tigers put a chink in the goalie's armor at the 14:23 mark, capitalizing on a rebound chance of their own. On the man-advantage, CC leading-scorer Brett Sterling knocked home the equalizer.
But the Badgers would regain the lead just before heading into the break—notching their first power-play tally of the game.
Tom Gilbert snapped off a quick wrister off the crossbar and into the back of the net with 27 seconds left in the period. After a brief review by the officials, the goal stood and the Badgers closed out the first with a 2-1 lead.
"We moved the puck around well, created chances," Eaves said of his team's power play.
Scoring halted in the second period, as the Badgers spent the better portion in their offensive zone, but did not make Zaba work until the final minutes when they received back-to-back power plays.
After staying out of the penalty box in the second, the Badgers made it their second home in the third, forcing Elliott to come up big again by giving the Tigers four power plays over the final 18 minutes.
"They're dangerous—the way they move the puck," Burish said. "They don't have set plays. It's not something you can go out there and pre-scout."
Elliott and the Badgers killed off the first three penalties of the period and tallied their second power play goal of the night at 13:19. Once again it was clear that Elliott was the team's best penalty-killer.
"They have two really good power play units," Elliott said. "When we face teams like that, I think we play even better. I take it as a challenge."
Joe Pavelski fired a blazer from the point and Burish was in front to deflect it in and put Wisconsin up 3-1. The play—which included a post-goal scuffle—happened so fast that Burish did not even know if he got a stick on it when asked after the game.
"I was just battling in front, that's my job I guess," Burish said. "I have no idea [if it hits me] half the time, I'm just in there battling."
Burish's last-second hit back in Madison, which put Scott Thauwald out for the season, was the lead story this week as it was unknown what would happen when the two teams took to the ice Friday.
"I don't put any specialty into that," Eaves said of Burish getting the game-winner. "He was one of the guys on the ice and it turned out to be the winning goal."
The captain said he was the subject of some trash talking on the ice, but outside of the usual minor skirmishes, there were no major instances.
Burish had a chance to put the Badgers up 4-1, but came up empty on a short-handed breakaway minutes later.
The Tigers converted on their fourth power play of the period as Marty Sertich took advantage of a stickless Joe Piskula and dealt Joey Crabb a nice pass. Elliott had little chance to stop Crabb's shot, which brought CC back within a goal.
Crabb finished with a two-point night to lead the Tigers while Zaba finished with 33 saves.
The tired Badger squad spent the waning minutes doing anything they could to get the puck out of their defensive zone. They held on for the win, despite the CC crowd coming to life.
It was a big road win for the Badgers, who resumed WCHA play after a month-long layoff.
"This was an enormous two points," Burish said. "This is our biggest game of the year—the biggest two points we've had so far."
The win and two points padded the Badgers' league lead, putting them six points ahead of Minnesota, while the Tigers slipped to third place, seven points behind the Badgers but still one ahead of fourth-place Denver. The Pioneers were stunned 5-1 by St. Cloud State Friday.
There is no doubt that it will be another heated battle Saturday night as Wisconsin will try to remain undefeated on the road and unbeaten in the season-series with Colorado College.