After a dominating first period for Wisconsin, the Gophers scored three unanswered goals, including the dagger by none other than Madison-native Phil Kessel with less than eight minutes left in the game as No. 4 Minnesota completed a sweep of the No. 2 Badgers, 3-1.
"To be honest I didn't think we would be able to come here and win a couple games," Minnesota coach Don Lucia said. "I give our kids a lot of credit."
There was still hope for UW when Minnesota went up 2-1 at 10:33 in the third, but less than two minutes later Kessel took the air out of the Kohl Center.
He skated in the left side of the zone and Kyle Klubertanz took away the passing lane. Kessel had no choice but to snap off a shot at Shane Connelly, and he made the freshman netminder pay with a blast through the five-hole.
"Anytime you come down here and beat the Badgers it's a great feeling," Kessel said.
After a weekend of boos and taunting in his direction, Kessel celebrated by cupping his gloved hand to his ear as if he was asking what the crowd had to say at that point.
"It just popped into my head," the freshman said. "I got excited [and just gave them] a little ‘I can't hear you.'"
The relatively silent response said enough.
"Right now the, for us, the main thing is just to maintain and kind of regroup here in the middle of the storm and make sure that we're not losing confidence in ourself," UW coach Mike Eaves said.
It was all Badgers early on Saturday.
UW benefited from a power play in the opening minutes. After pummeling Kellen Briggs with four early shots, Gilbert finally put one home. Robbie Earl passed to the puck to him from the left circle to right circle and the blue-liner deposited the puck top-shelf in the near corner.
The Gophers had just one shot to the Badgers 10 through the first 10 minutes of the game and were outshot 14-3 in the opening frame, but UW carried just a 1-0 lead into the break.
"After the first, we didn't feel we played very well, but all things considered, only down one is looking pretty good," Lucia said.
While he allowed the one goal in the first, Kellen Briggs held tight and gave his team a chance. He finished the game with 31 saves in the win.
"Kellen was outstanding and helped us get the two points," Lucia said.
All the Badgers hard work in the first went for naught when Ryan Potulny got the equalizer just minutes into the second.
Potulny—who had a career-high four assists in Minnesota's victory Friday night—evened things up in the second period with his 20th goal of the season and 50th of his career. The junior center was stopped by Connelly initially but stuffed home his own rebound to make it 1-1 four minutes into the period.
It was a much more even 20 minutes in the second with UW winning the shot battle 7-6, and despite another solid effort from Wisconsin, it was the Gophers who got on the scoreboard.
The same energy just was not there for Wisconsin in the third. Despite out-shooting Minnesota 11-9, the Gophers sealed the deal with back-to-back goals with less than 10 minutes left.
Gordon snuck behind the Wisconsin defense and Danny Irmen found him with a great pass through the legs of Gilbert. The assistant captain tried to catch him from behind, but Gordon sent a well-placed shot from the left circle into the lower far corner of the net past Connelly's outstretched leg.
"It was a great pass and it got through and Ben made a nice shot," Lucia said. "I kind of felt the momentum change when we tied it 1-1. Then I thought we got better as the game went on."
Just two minutes later, Kessel skated in the left-hand side and fired a shot on Connelly that the young netminder would probably like to have back. The puck found its way through the five-hole to put the nail in the coffin.
The Badgers had a few chances down the stretch—including a shot by Robbie Earl that caromed off the post—but could not mount a comeback.
Connelly finished with 15 saves in his fourth straight loss.
The Badgers (13-5-2 WCHA, 18-6-2 overall) seemingly had a stranglehold on the league just a fortnight ago, but the loss brought the Gophers (13-5-2, 18-6-4) even with UW atop the standings, blowing the race for the MacNaughton Cup right open.
With Minnesota off next weekend, Wisconsin will try to get back on track on the road—where it has been quite comfortable with an unbeaten record—at Minnesota-Duluth next weekend.
"We've dug ourselves a little bit of a hole, but you look at the bright side, it's tied [at the top of the league]," Earl said. "It's still in our hands and it's up to us what we want to do with it."