The Badgers unraveled at the seams. After snagging an early 3-0 lead, they relaxed and squandered it away, giving up six straight goals en route to a 6-4 upset loss to the Mavericks.
"On the road, that's the best start and best 19:50 we can play," senior captain Adam Burish said. "We felt like we were the best team in the country. Then in 10.5 seconds to crumble like that, is disappointing."
"I thought we played the way we wanted to—we had rhythm, we had goals, we didn't give up a lot," UW head coach Mike Eaves said of the first 19:50 of the first period. "[Those two goals were] a turning point."
It would seem like no surprise that it was Minnesota State's junior captain David Backes who masterminded it all. But he hadn't scored a goal in 11 games prior to Friday night. He found a fine time to come alive.
He scored the first Maverick goal to spark his team, made a fine assist to help give MSU the lead and then fired home a dagger—the team's fifth straight goal and what turned out to be the game-winner—to cap the surprising comeback.
"That's his best game he's had in a long time," MSU head coach Troy Jutting said. "Not just because he scored the goals. I thought he played very well in a lot of aspects of the game."
It was the junior standout who got things started. In a hole down 3-0, he gave the Mavericks some hope, scoring the first of two MSU goals in a matter of eight seconds.
Backes took the puck off a faceoff on an MSU power play, skated to his right from the left circle and ripped the puck low through traffic for his 11th goal of the year with just 10 seconds remaining in the period.
Then, just moments later with 1.2 seconds left on the clock and after winning the ensuing draw, the Mavericks quickly struck again.
"We played how we wanted for 19 minutes and we just didn't finish it," UW goalie Brian Elliott said.
"We say you want to win 20 minutes, you don't mean 19 minutes, 50 seconds," Burish said.
The Mavericks got the puck deep in their zone and Jeff Marler made a swift pass from the left corner to the far side of the crease. Sophomore Jeff Hanson was there to put it home and cut the deficit to 3-2 heading into the locker room.
And if the Mavericks needed any more momentum early in the second, junior Robbie Earl basically handed it to them. He turned the puck over on the UW power play to Dan Rankin, who skated in all alone and beat Elliott stick-side.
UW would never get that momentum back.
"Saves by their goalie," Eaves said when asked why it was his team could not regain momentum. "You could add on to that a big save by Brian in that time where we needed it. We didn't get it and they did."
Elliott, in his second start back after injuring his knee Jan. 18, made just 16 saves, but did not seem to feel too bad about his performance, citing it "not up to par."
"They were all pretty good goals," Elliott said. "There were breakaways and two-on-one's."
Six minutes after Rankin's breakaway, freshman Brian Kilburg scored his first career goal to give Minnesota State the lead. With the puck deep in MSU's zone, he snuck behind everyone into the left circle and slammed home a one-timer off a pass from Backes to put his team up 4-3.
Backes would get his second tally of the game with less than two minutes remaining in the second period thanks to a blast during a 5-on-3.
Wisconsin may have had a chance in the third frame if it could have gotten the first goal, but Ryan Carter thwarted any chance of that when he exited the penalty box and snapped off a wrister on a two-on-one break.
What a change it was from the 19:45 mark of the first period to the horn sending the teams into the intermission. It was all Badgers early on as it looked like they would win going away.
Robbie Earl gave UW a lead less than four minutes into the game, freshman Jack Skille doubled that lead four minutes later on an impressive individual effort and Nick Licari made it 3-0 less than 13 minutes into the game.
In fact, UW took 10 of the games first 12 shots, and Elliott went untested early.
But in a 10-second flurry the game was over, probably taking UW's MacNaughton Cup hopes with it. The loss dropped the Badgers to 21-8-3 overall and 15-7-3 in the Western Collegiate Hockey Association, four points behind conference-leading Minnesota. The top-ranked Gophers won at last-place Alaska-Anchorage Friday night. A Gopher win Saturday coupled with a UW loss or tie—or a Minnesota tie and a Badger loss—would result in Minnesota clinching the league championship.
"After tonight this is probably as disappointed as I've been, maybe in my four years being here—to shoot ourselves in the foot like this," Burish said. "Now it's just about getting ourselves going again—get this momentum going…that's the attitude now."
The attendance Friday night was 4,313, the largest crowd this season at the Midwest Wireless Civic Center, which holds 4,832.