In just 27 agonizing seconds, the Badgers' ship was blown further off course.
Michigan senior David Rohlfs and sophomore Andrew Cogliano scored within 27 seconds of each other to turn a one-goal deficit into a one-goal advantage, as the No.7 Michigan Wolverines (11-3-0) handed the Wisconsin Badgers (4-9-2) their sixth straight loss with a 4-3 triumph in the College Hockey Showcase in Madison.
"We had a couple of breakdowns that cost us," head coach Mike Eaves said. "[Michigan head coach] Red [Berenson] came off the bench and said we got lucky tonight. It still doesn't put a win in the column though."
"You don't walk out of here feeling like you were the better team," Berenson said. "You walk out of here feeling like you were lucky. We got a little lucky and they got an unlucky."
With Wisconsin up by a single goal midway through the third period, sophomore T.J. Hensick, who had scored his sixth goal in the second, brought the puck into Wisconsin's zone. Hensick's quick maneuver drew the attention of two UW's defensemen and goalie Brian Elliott, leaving Rohlfs wide-open. Hensick made the pass and Rohlfs capitalized for his ninth of the season.
Before Wisconsin could even blink, Michigan was on the rush again. With the puck coming off the boards, Cogliano fired a shot from the left face-off circle that managed to trickle under Elliott's armpit and put the Wolverines ahead for good.
"Just two bad bounces and letting down for the minute and they put two in the net," freshman Michael Davies said. "We have to keep working hard and taking pucks to the net. We need to respond to [those goals and] turn this ship around."
Michigan wasn't out of the woods yet, as Wisconsin launched a full-out assault on the Michigan defense. However, goalie Billy Sauer held his ground. After an off-putting first period, Sauer regrouped to stop 25 of the next 26 shots that came his way, including 15 in the final period. Elliott stopped 30 shots in route to another tough loss.
"I wish I would have played a little bit better earlier," Sauer said. "I think the whole team was struggling, and I really thought I could have had the first two goals. So me playing big in the third I guess made up for it"
Much like the other games during the Badgers' losing streak, it was the same story of the puck not bouncing their way or finding the back of the opponents' net.
"We had about three open nets that we could have made an impact on the game had we bury one of those," Eaves said. "We hit some posts again. It seemed like the last shot was going to win. It was an entertaining game to watch."
One of the positives for Wisconsin from tonight's contest was the return of Skille, who looked like his old self after almost 90 days on the sidelines. With the addition of Skille on the ice, Wisconsin played one of their best opening periods of the season.
"[Skille] has such a physical presence with his, speed, size and shot," Eaves said. "It gives you another dimension that we haven't had here for awhile. It was definitely a boost that we needed and it was good to have him back."
The Badgers struck first off a feed from freshman Blake Geoffrion, as Michael Davies flipped the puck between Michigan goalie Billy Sauer's glove and pad for his fifth goal of the season and the early Badger lead.
Just five minutes later, Skille made a triumphant return to the Badger lineup as he led a 2-on-1 break for the Badgers. Skille executed a perfect fake to his linemate, a fake that Michigan defensivemen Mark Mitera bit on, and Skille blasted the puck past Sauer for the short-handed goal and increased the Badger lead to two at the end of the first 20 minutes.
The Wolverines didn't lie down, cutting the lead in half just two minutes into the second when sophomore Tim Miller scored on a one-timer to put the Wolverines on the board. The Wolverines tied the score just past the halfway point in the period when Hensick converted on a Michigan power play and just like that, Michigan had drawn it to even.
Wisconsin answered right back with a one-touch passing sequence that found its way onto the stick of Davies. Davies spun and threw the puck to the front of the net, where Matt Ford was waiting and delivered, giving Wisconsin their last lead of the game.
But after that faithful 27 seconds and the inability to score over the next 11:08, Wisconsin was sent back to the drawing board. Even with the Badgers losers of eight of their last nine, Eaves feels that Wisconsin is beginning to turn that rusty wheel back in the right direction.
"I drew a big picture of the ocean and told them that we are going into a gale storm," Eaves said. "We're trying to turn this thing around and I could feel us tonight start to turn it around. You don't turn a big ship right away.
"We've had more scoring chances than we've had in a long time, we scored three goals which was a positive, we probably out-chanced them tonight and we still lose," Eaves added. "I told them to be disappointed, absolutely. But take that feeling and bring that feeling back tomorrow and let's start turning that ship around."
Let's just hope Wisconsin hasn't drifted too far into the sunset to recover.