The way Wisconsin has played over the last couple weeks in the final frame, however, Saturday's finish could only be labeled as routine.
Entering the third with a one-goal deficit, No.13 Wisconsin got an early goal from freshman Kyle Turris and senior Josh Engel delivered the game winner, his second of the night, as the Badgers come from behind in the final period for the third-consecutive game, stunning No.10 St. Cloud State 4-3, sweeping the two-game series.
Through 14 games this season, Wisconsin (7-6-1, 4-4-0 WCHA) has outscored its opponents 26-9 in the final frame, including 4-0 against the Huskies this weekend.
"We've shown resilient and shown our character by battling," UW head coach Mike Eaves said. "This is the period where you grow as a player and show your worth. What a nice growth for this group. This is how you build a bond with your teammates by going through a battle like this and become successful."
After playing his three years as a sometimes seldom-used defenseman, Engel was converted to a forward for his senior year for the simple reason that the coaching staff wanted him on the ice. Figuring to be the seventh defenseman before the season, the coaching staff moved Engel to left wing on the second line, a decision that continues to provide dividends.
Scoring his first goal in the team's opening game against Notre Dame and missing the next two weeks with a leg injury, Engel came back to score points in three of the next four games, but it was Saturday night that he became the star of the show.
With the game tied one minute and 39 seconds into the second period, Engel took advantage of one of the countless rebounds given up by SCSU goalie Jase Weslosky. With the puck let loose right in front of the crease and Engel parked right in front, the senior buried the opportunity to put Wisconsin back in front.
When the third period started with Wisconsin trailing, Turris broke a nine-game goal-less streak when he faked pass and fired a bullet that Weslosky had virtually no chance of stopping to quickly tie the score.
Fourteen minutes later, Engel tallied his second of the night when linemate Blake Geoffrion fired a one-timer above the left face-off circle. Weslosky, coming out to play the shot, was out of position when the rebound went right to Engel, giving the senior a wide-open net to score the game winner.
"He has that ability to have that touch with the stick," Eaves said. "Coming into a forward's role, he has poise and confidence with the puck and as he grows into that role, he understands where he needs to be to get rebounds and to get open. It's a growing process (but) based on what we saw tonight, it was a good growth."
The Wisconsin win continues to plague St. Cloud State, as Madison has become a house of horrors for the Huskies. The Huskies have a 12-game winless streak at the Kohl Center in addition to a 13-game winless streak overall against Wisconsin. The last time the Huskies won in Madison was February 2001.
"We've got a curse here, no question," St. Cloud State head coach Bob Motzko said. "There's got to be a curse for us (against them)."
The ghosts jumped on Wisconsin's bandwagon from the get-go, as the Badgers were able to find their way onto the scoreboard in the opening period, something that has become a rarity for UW.
Off the initial shot from UW defenseman Jamie McBain, freshman Patrick Johnson found himself in perfect position at the top of the crease to cash in a rebound. Although his first attempt failed when Weslosky coughed up the puck, Johnson's persistence paid off, scoring the game's first goal in the opening minute.
In Wisconsin's previous seven WCHA games entering the night, the Badgers had scored just one goal in the first period, including none in the last six consecutive conference contests.
Needless to say, it was a streak that Badgers were more than happy to break.
"Our focus this morning in our meeting wasn't on teaching, it was about us responding with a great start tonight and that first goal was evidence of that," Eaves said. "We got up and down the ice like we needed to and that's got to be apart of our identity."
From that point, the two teams traded blows. St. Cloud State (7-5-2, 3-4-1 WCHA) took advantage of a misplaced puck by UW goalie Shane Connelly that led to Huskie freshman Garrett Roe starting a bang-bang-bang play, throwing the puck to winger Ryan Lasch, who found fellow-forward Andreas Nodl above the right circle with an open net.
After Engel's first goal, St. Cloud State bounced back with two unanswered tallies, one by Aaron Marvin that deflected off a defenseman's shoulder pad and the second by Ryan Laasch on a puck that caromed off one of his line mates, leaving him with a wide-open net.
But despite having numerous odd-man rushes in the third period and a couple legitimate opportunities in the closing seconds to tie the score, the Huskies only were able to get off six shots in the third period, failing to match UW's intensity.
"We're not happy with the outcome, giving up two goals in the third period, but that's a part of our growing thing right now," Motzko said. "Both of those goals were in transition. We played pretty good hockey this weekend and we had a bunch of chances to win it."
The three unsung heroes of the weekend were the Badgers second line of Engel, Geoffrion and Johnson, who were given the assignment of matching up with SCSU's second-line of Matt Hartmann, Nodl and Roe. In addition to not allowing the line to score any even strength goals all weekend, the trio, not known for their offensive prowess, scored three and notched three assists in Saturday's triumph.
"Their mindset was shutting them down and trying to contain them the best they could," Eaves said. "On the flipside, they were productive, which was somewhat of a bonus. The balance that they bring, they can play with and without the puck and be effective and tonight they did both very well."
With the Badgers having one more WCHA series before the Holiday Break (next weekend at Minnesota State), the Badgers picked up four big points that put them back near the top of the conference with two games still in hand.
"We have a really good attitude," Engel said. "We want to turn the ship around and (get out) of this slump. Right now, this sweep really helped us turn this ship around and now we are going strong. Coming out like we did tonight in the second game of the weekend was a big step and finishing it the way we did, showing character, was huge."