"Well, it's not the most pleasing thing, that's for sure," UW coach Mike Eaves said.
For Minnesota, it was payback for Wisconsin dominating the Gophers at Mariucci Arena in December, winning both games there. This time, however, the Badgers dropped two at home at the hands of Minnesota, losing 5-4 on Friday and 3-1 on Saturday.
"We go into Minnesota and we're playing well and we come up with two wins and they come into your building and we're a little dinged up in terms of having our key player out and they take it to us," Eaves said.
The Badgers troubles began over a week ago when star goalie Brian Elliott injured his left knee during practice. The Badgers had just taken two wins on the road against Colorado College and had not lost in over a month before Elliott's injury. Since then, the Badgers are 0-4-0 with freshman Shane Connelly in the net.
"These have been six unbelievable games in all facets—physical, mental and emotional," Eaves said. "It's hard to figure out. You figure you're playing Minnesota at home, sold out building, big game in the standings. What's missing? We ask ourselves, ‘Are we out of shape?' I don't think so.
"It just may have been the wearing down emotionally of dealing with not having Brian in the lineup and big crowds at home. Sometimes you can get drained in that way."
The Badgers outshot Minnesota 32-18 on Saturday but Connelly gave up three goals, while the Gophers' Kellen Briggs allowed just one. Connelly gave up eight goals over the two losses. The Badgers can't deny that they miss having Elliott in net.
"We're still dealing with it," Eaves said. "What we created with Brian—in terms of the defense and the forwards and Brian—was built over time. There is trust, there is confidence that Brian created with his teammates. We are trying to create that with Shane—a young freshman thrown in against some of the best teams in the conference."
The Badgers have lost four straight at home and questions about a late-season slide similar to last year have been raised. Unlike last season, however, the Badgers can find some comfort that despite their recent shortcomings they are still tied for first in the WCHA, albeit with both Minnesota and Denver.
"It's a tie game in the WCHA and its going to be hard the rest of the way and we're just going to build off these last two weekends," assistant captain Tom Gilbert said. The defenseman scored the only goal for UW on Saturday and reflected on how his team's current losing streak is a reminder of last season.
"Last year was a different story," Gilbert said. "It was more that we had to catch up in the WCHA when we were sliding. This year three teams are tied at the top of the league and the only thing we can do now is not play to our potential to lose that lead. It's in our hands to win this race at the end of the season. It is tough, it's kind of like a mirror image of last season but the only thing we use right now is the fact that we are in first place, tied with two other teams and we've still got [eight] games to go."
But sitting tied at the top after owning an eight-point lead in the WCHA just two weeks ago, no one can forget about Elliott.
"We've dug ourselves a little whole," junior wing Robbie Earl said. "I think losing such a big key to our team, Brian Elliott, that's a big impact. He was part of that leadership role and that's tough to deal with."
"Everybody was talking about this eight-point cushion before we ran into the storm of losing Mr. Elliott," Eaves said. "That's life, that's the game. We said many times going into this that it's a long journey and we're going to hit storms and we hit a storm. Right now we need to just maintain. We know we're a good team, we've demonstrated it, and we need to get back to that."