Stuck in the program's worst losing streak (0-6-1) to open the season, the No.16 Badgers battled through multiple twist and turns, waved off goals and momentum shifts to claim a 5-4 victory over No.9 Minnesota.
Coupled with a 4-2 Minnesota-Duluth win over Denver, the Badgers will drive back to Madison in a first-place tie atop the WCHA.
"We were resurrected from the dead," said senior goalie Shane Connelly, who made 76 stops on the weekend. "It's a pretty amazing comeback and shows the true resiliency of our guys. It could have been a long year, but nobody is laughing at us now."
The Badger (16-11-3, 13-7-2 WCHA) turnaround is nothing short of mind boggling. Wisconsin is now 13-3-1 over their last 16 league games, 9-3-0 in its last 12 games against ranked teams and 7-1-1 over its last eight road contests.
More importantly, Wisconsin found a way to not only sweep a series in Mariucci Arena, but to win a game for the first time since December 2005, proving that the night before was no joke.
"We felt we didn't nearly play up to our potential," said UW's Jamie McBain about Friday night's 3-2 victory. "We heard the different comments by the Gopher players and fans about how we didn't earn (Friday's win). We took that as an insult and prove that we were a better team than that."
The key contributors on Saturday night for Wisconsin were hardly few and far between.
Junior forward John Mitchell, who missed two-thirds of last night's contest after getting whistled for a game misconduct, scored bookend goals for the Badgers, his final tally coming at 9:48 in the third when he somehow managed to get his stick on the puck amidst a huge fracas in front of the net.
"We missed that big body last night," UW head coach Mike Eaves said. "His physical presence was important for us."
Junior defenseman Jamie McBain added three points, one goal and two assists, to take over the WCHA lead in scoring for conference games. While his assists were critical on UW's first goal and second goal (a play where he hit Jordy Murray in perfect stride right as the freshman center got in front of the crease), the timing of his seventh goal of the season was critical.
After Minnesota erased a two-goal UW lead with two special teams goals in a 52 second span (the first on an unassisted short-handed tally by Ryan Flynn and the second on a power-play goal by Cade Fairchild off a cross-ice feed), McBain threaded the needle between six players to give Wisconsin a momentum changing power play goal and a lead they would never relinquish.
"That's part of the maturity of the team," Eaves said. "In every battle, there are turning points and the key battle was they made it 3-3 and that power play goal was a turning point in terms of just settling things down for us. That was a pivotal point."
And without question, the hero of the weekend was Connelly, who stopped 33 shots and seemingly came up with the big save when his team needed it. After stopping a 2-on-1 break the night before, Connelly robbed Ryan Stoa (who scored his 16th goal in the first period) on a wrister from the hash marks with 1:40 left that easily could have tied the game.
"He was absolutely huge," McBain said of Connelly. "He stole the game for us last night, no doubt about it, and was there for us tonight. He was about as good as he could ever be for us."
But in a truly character building weekend for Wisconsin, the Badgers figured out how to parlaying their momentum from game one to game two, something Wisconsin had failed to do over the past seven weeks.
Including the Murray goal (which came less than two minutes after an Aaron Bendickson rebound goal was disallowed by referee Derek Shepherd, who ruled forward Ben Grotting had rendered UM goalie Alex Kangas unable to defend the shot) and the McBain goal, UW didn't just carry over the momentum; it countered every Minnesota punch with a haymaker of its own.
"When it looked like we would be up against the wall, we had guys step up and made some really incredible plays," Connelly said. "Everyone stepped it up and make some things happen. Before when we got hit, we backed down, but now we're throwing punches back."
Added McBain: "That's the kind of team you want to be. Every time you get punched in the face, you might go down, but you've got to respond. We did that tonight and kept the gas pedal on."