MADISON, Wis. — The challenge came in the second intermission, delivered to a team that had fought off most of the charges made against it, but it still needed a surge to overcome a pesky barrier.
St. Cloud State coach Bob Motzko laid it out for his team as it faced a one-goal deficit with 20 minutes remaining: It had been in position to complete a weekend sweep seven times already this season without success.
The eighth time was the charm.
Mike Lee made 41 saves, enough to keep the Huskies around for a third-period rally with goals by Nic Dowd and Jarrod Rabey for a 2-1 victory over Wisconsin on Saturday.
St. Cloud State overcame a strong Badgers push in a first period that followed a 5-1 Huskies victory on Friday and overcame an offense that managed just 10 shots on goal through the first 40 minutes.
“We only have eight [healthy forwards], and coach always uses this metaphor that it’s like a boxer: You’ve got to take punches, take punches and when it’s your time to go, you have to go after it,” Dowd said.
Lee was the backbone, St. Cloud State players said, giving the Huskies the time to let the offense emerge.
He was 0-1-1 in potential sweep-clinching games this season, but was sidelined for more than three months after hip surgery and had to watch the other chances fall by the wayside.
“I was close to throwing some things through my TV a few times as I was watching these guys let a few slip away over the season thus far,” Lee said. “And I know they feel the same way; it was frustrating. Coach came in and challenged us today and let us know that it’s that time of year where we need to start doing that.”
Dowd took only 57 seconds of the third period to get the Huskies even and get the offense firing. The sophomore center wrapped the puck around the back of the goal and got a stuff shot on Wisconsin goaltender Landon Peterson (21 saves). The rebound came right back to Dowd, who snapped a shot into the top left corner.
“We needed one play,” Motzko said, “and Dowd gets the big goal.”
Rabey put the Huskies (12-14-4, 9-10-3 WCHA) ahead when he finished off a long stretch of pressure by backhanding a shot through Peterson on a rush with 5:03 remaining.
A defenseman by trade, Rabey dressed as a winger because the Huskies simply don’t have any more depth. Nick Oliver sat out after being knocked out of Friday’s game by a hit from Wisconsin defenseman John Ramage.
Defenseman Brandon Burrell was slotted as part of an 11-man forward lineup that was further depleted by an illness to top-line winger Jared Festler.
“We don’t have the numbers, so we have to play methodical,” Rabey said. “We have to sit back and play good defense and we have to wait to strike. And when we strike, we hope to strike big.”
Wisconsin (12-14-2, 7-13-2) got a power-play goal from Frankie Simonelli early in the second period and owned a 24-10 advantage in shots on goal through two periods, but couldn’t close it out.
Top scorers Mark Zengerle and Justin Schultz were held off the score sheet for the series, the first time that has happened this season.
“I’d be more concerned if they weren’t getting shots and they weren’t getting scoring chances; the fact is they are,” Badgers coach Mike Eaves said. “We know that trend is going to come back up.”
Wisconsin lost a season-high fourth straight game and was swept for the fourth time this season, but for the first time at the Kohl Center.
“We’ve probably never been more disappointed,” said Eaves, who reported red eyes and tears in the Badgers dressing room. “Now we’re going to get an X-ray vision of what we’re made of this week.”
The Huskies had just three road wins this season entering the series, but went into what Motzko called a much-needed bye week with a surge.
“Our only hope is to make noise in the playoffs, and the one thing that we’re benefiting from is we’re playing a lot of guys right now in key situations [because] we have to do it,” Motzko said. “They’re going to grow up, hopefully grow up by playoff time, otherwise even for the future. Our guys are into it. It’s all-in.”