Though they were heavily outshot in the game, a goal in the opening minute of both the first and second periods was enough to take down the Huskies 3-1 in front of a sellout crowd at the Kohl Center.
Of course, 37 saves from junior netminder Brian Elliott didn't hurt, as he stood tall and looked like the player everyone saw in the first half of this season.
"He's getting pretty close to being in the state he needs to be in." Eaves said. "Whenever you're going to go into a playoff, the success you're going to have starts right between the pipes."
"I hate letting in goals," Elliott said. "When it comes down to it, you want to play your position the best that you can. I just wanted to be solid back there, especially for these guys on senior weekend."
The win capped just the weekend Wisconsin was looking for, as it reenergized and boosted its momentum heading into a WCHA playoff first-round matchup with eighth-seeded Michigan Tech.
"We were good tonight—that was one of our better efforts in a while. We'll end our season with that," St. Cloud head coach Bob Motzko said. "I'm proud of our hockey team."
Eaves started the five members of his senior class, but it didn't take long for the Badgers to get into the swing of things with their regular lines. In fact, it took them less than one minute to get on the scoreboard.
Sophomore Joe Pavelski, UW's leading scorer, added another point to his total with his 18th goal of the year. He skated in from the left circle, was met by goalie Bobby Goepfert and a defenseman who stopped the puck initially, but plugged away at his own rebound, eventually knocking it by the netminder just 51 seconds into the game.
"You never know what you're going to get on a senior night," Eaves said. "That's the best start we could've hoped for."
It was the fifth time this season that the Badgers scored a goal in the first minute of the game and the 10th time they've got on the board with less than four minutes elapsed from the clock.
However, after that, the first period was almost all Huskies. In the opening 20 minutes, they put 15 shots on goal, compared to the Badgers six. More notably, UW only attempted 13 shots over that amount of time, while St. Cloud fired 28 shots.
Despite holding a 1-0 advantage on the scoreboard at the end of the frame, St. Cloud had Wisconsin looking as if it were on its heels.
The story of the second period sounded very much the same as the first. Again it was the Huskies outshooting the Badgers, but the lone goal of the period came from Wisconsin, and again came within the first minute of play.
In fact, the goal came off the faceoff that opened the period. Tom Gilbert captured the puck and skated just past center ice before letting it loose, dumping it into the zone.
But instead of throwing it into the corner, he put it on net, resulting in a routine play that a goaltender probably has to make at least three times a game. But instead of closing off the goal and covering the shot, the puck somehow slid under Goepfert's right leg and into the corner of the net.
"It must have been because it was senior night that the puck went in for me. …I was actually trying to pass it," Gilbert said. "I didn't even know it went in until the crowd was cheering, so it was a surprise to me."
"We all see those about what, once a year? Once every five years?," Motzko said. "He was playing for icing and it caught him."
The goal doubled Wisconsin's lead just 12 seconds into the second frame.
But it was the Huskies who won the shot advantage again in the second. This time it was only a 12-11 margin, but they had their best chances of the weekend and forced Brian Elliott to look like his true self again.
In the third period, it was the Huskies jumping out with a goal in the opening minute. But St. Cloud's power play tally was quickly answered when the Badgers posted a goal on the man-advantage themselves, quelling any SCSU momentum and skating away with a victory.
While the early-period goals were big for the Badgers, Eaves pointed to senior wing Ryan MacMurchy's third-period goal as the difference maker.
"Probably the biggest goal was the response on the power play after we got scored on," Eaves said. "That gave us a little strength there going down the backstretch."
When all was said and done, St. Cloud State outshot Wisconsin 38-26 and had at least twice as many good scoring chances as it had the night before.
While there were doubts lingering after Friday night's shutout by the junior netminder, he answered them, giving his team some much-needed momentum heading into the postseason.
"We had our share of chances tonight—we had a couple odd-man rushes and we had great shots, we were right in front of him a few times," Motzko said. "I take it he has his confidence again going into the playoffs. Whatever people were writing about him, you can get a different pen out now."
Wisconsin (17-8-3 WCHA, 23-9-3 overall) tied Denver for second place in the league but will have the No. 3 seed in the conference tournament. The Badgers will host eighth-seeded Michigan Tech (6-16-6, 7-23-6) in a best-of-three first-round series next weekend.