Wisconsin (25-10-3) jumped out to an early lead in the first period, but gave up back-to-back goals in the final two minutes of that frame and never recovered.
It was Feb. 17 at Michigan Tech when UW relaxed and allowed two goals over the final 10 minutes and was forced to settle for a tie. The next week at Minnesota State offered a similar script when, up 3-0 in the first period, the Badgers gave up two goals in less than 10 seconds to end the first period, squandering momentum and, later on, a victory.
"As individuals learn at different rates, so do teams," UW head coach Mike Eaves said. "Apparently, we have a pretty thick skull right now. Our hope is that we can figure this darn thing out right now."
The Badgers had better hope that lesson is ingrained in their brains from here on out if they want their postseason to be long and fruitful.
It looked like they would put it in cruise control after the first 11 minutes of action included a pair of UW goals. And apparently they thought they could do just that, but the Sioux (26-15-1) charged back with two goals of their own in the final four minutes.
"We got a two-goal lead and we just kind of became complacent with ourselves," UW sophomore Joe Pavelski said. "We gave up a couple soft goals … it takes the wind out of you a little bit. It's a lesson we've got to learn.
"It's happened two times. If it doesn't sink in by now, it's never going to sink in."
It was none other than the Badgers top line that grabbed some early momentum, scoring at 7:43 of the opening stanza. Kyle Klubertanz fired a shot from the left circle and Pavelski, UW's leading scorer, tipped the puck down, bouncing it off the ice and into the far corner.
However, the Sioux clawed back and cut the deficit in half when Ryan Duncan snapped off a sharp wrister over Brian Elliott's glove. The goal, which came just as UND's power play came to an end, beat Elliott with just 1:53 remaining in the first.
And not to be outdone by the unlikely hero in Brandt, North Dakota tied it up thanks to sophomore Rylan Kaip's first career goal. Kaip used a little one-timer from Matt Watkins, chipping the puck and sneaking it between the near post and Elliott's leg.
"We've got a veteran team and everybody's seen what we can do," a frustrated Pavelski said. "We've played excellent. It's just something that comes with each guy. We need every guy going out there."
And although it was Kaip's first goal in his 60-game career at North Dakota, he was not finished. After Rastislav Spirko cleaned up a loose puck to give the Sioux the lead just 4:10 into the second frame, Kaip put UND up two goals with his second tally of the game.
UW's Andrew Joudrey tried to clear the puck to the corner, but Kaip intercepted it deep in the right circle and blasted a shot over Elliott's glove and off the netminder's water bottle to make it 4-2 with less than two minutes left in the second period.
The goal turned out to be the game-winner.
"He brings a lot to the team. It's taken him a little while to get back to where we thought he would be a year ago, but we've seen the signs," UND head coach Dave Hakstol said. "He's been a real good player for us and brought us a lot of energy and a lot of play-making."
The Pavelski/Robbie Earl tandem came through again for Wisconsin as the Badgers quickly answered back with a power-play goal. Pavelski found Earl in the slot and the junior sliced a one-timer through UND goalie Jordan Parise's legs.
Though still down a goal, the goal gave his team some spark heading into the final 20 minutes. They fought, outshooting the Sioux 12-7 over the final 20 minutes, but thanks to some stingy defense, especially from Parise, North Dakota held on for the win.
"We weren't desperate at all times," Pavelski said. "I had a shot go through my legs in the slot. We had numerous chances to make it a three-goal game. When we figure out how to do that … to put a team away like that…we'll get going again."
"If you look back at our schedule, I don't think that one of the hurdles we crossed early was coming from behind," Eaves said. "Teams learn at different rates. This is something we're going to have to figure out here before the season slides by us."
Wisconsin will take on the loser of Friday night's Minnesota/St. Cloud State matchup at 2:30 p.m. Saturday in the WCHA third-place game.