Minnesota State could not stay out of the penalty box, but No.3 Wisconsin couldn't find fluidity in its first seven power play chances, capitalize on its decisive advantage in shots or solve the unknown riddle of Mavericks freshman goalie Phil Cook.
That changed as soon as the WCHA officials hauled two Mavericks to the box. The Badgers finally capitalized on the plethora of penalties as senior Michael Davies scored two power-play goals in a 31-second span to kick start the home team into gear for a 4-3 victory Friday night.
"We couldn't score on the power play," Davies said. "We were getting our chances. We knew we would get one if we stayed persistent."
Davies was being kind, as the Badgers (17-7-4, 12-6-3 WCHA) weren't able to score in any measure, despite generating plenty of scoring chances and dominating the shot chart, making matters worse when the Mavericks took a 1-0 lead off a backhanded shot by Mike Louwerse at 14:26, controlling the momentum and keeping the 12,522 fans restless.
"We joked in the locker room that it seemed like we were all ‘Swede' no ‘Finnish' because of the chances we had," Eaves smirked, admitting the Badgers were losing energy on the man advantage.
That's when a single sequence changed the course for the rest of the evening. Off a face-off in State's zone that saw Wisconsin miss out on two more prime scoring chances, the officials hauled center Zach Harrison and defenseman Kurt Davis to the box for interference and holding, respectively.
Suddenly, the Mavericks (12-15-2, 6-14-1) had to kill off two minutes with two players down against the WCHA's fourth-best power play unit, a group that was pent-up with frustration. In a span of 39 seconds, Davies' tallies helped the Badgers find their niche.
"I thought we did a pretty good job until they did score," Minnesota State coach Troy Jutting said. "That's a tough situation, 5-on-3 in this league, especially when you have the type of skill players (Wisconsin) does."
After senior tri-captain Blake Geoffrion won the ensuing face off, fellow captain Ben Street out muscled defenseman Ben Youds for the puck at the right post. The puck skipped over to Davies, who missed on the first shot, but knocked in the rebound at 15:39.
Seconds after tying the score at one, center Derek Stepan took a shot that deflected off Geoffrion to freshman Justin Schultz in the right circle. Schultz took a shot that Cook (40 saves) blocked, but the rebound went to a wide-open Davies, who knocked it in unguarded at the left post.
Davies wasn't finished in the period, throwing a cross-ice pass that Geoffrion knocked in from the right post at 16:10, moving the senior into the team lead with 35 points (13 goals, 22 assists). As important as Davies' two power-play goals, the fact that junior goalie Scott Gudmandson stopped multiple odd-man rushes on his way to 21 saves combined to give the Badgers a jump start.
"Goody made some big saves, some really big saves when we needed him," Eaves said.
The Badgers looked to be comfortably ahead when Geoffrion perfectly executed an odd-man rush passing sequence by passing the puck off to Aaron Bendickson, who registered the shorthanded goal at 11:33 that seemed to put a bow on Wisconsin's victory, up 4-1.
It also seemed to take the heat off right winger Eriah Hayes, who had a wide-open shot go off the left post at 6:27 left in the third period. As it turned out, Hayes will be kicking himself for missing that key opportunity.
The comeback started at 15:48 when Harrison tricked UW defenseman Cody Goloubef with a head fake threw the puck between Gudmandson's pads to make it 4-2. It got interesting when Minnesota State was awarded a penalty shot after senior tri-captain Ryan McDonagh was penalized for pushing a loose puck out of the crease.
Right winger Kael Mouillierat converted a penalty shot with 1 minute left to make it 4-3, although Eaves believes his player was in the right.
"There were some differences in opinions there," Eaves said of the conversation between the referees and the linesmen. "We'll definitely be making a call here (to the league office)."
In the end, the Mavericks couldn't overcome a season-high 16 penalties (leading to UW going 3-of-12 of the power play), being out shot 44-24 and had all five of its power-play chances killed off.
Minnesota State has now lost nine one-goal games overall, eight in conference play and seven against the top five teams in the league.
"They are starting to wear on us a little bit," Jutting said. "Tonight's over with. We're getting prepared for tomorrow night."
Same goes for the Wisconsin side, as the Badgers assumed sole possession of fourth place heading into the series finale Saturday.
"Where the game kind of went in the third period sets up for a pretty intense contest tomorrow," Eaves said.