The sudden rebirth of Scott Gudmandson can be traced to a moment earlier this week when the senior goaltender for the University of Wisconsin men's hockey team refused to be tortured.
After four straight miserable starts, Gudmandson returned to elite form Saturday night to help UW record a 3-1 victory over Colorado College before an announced sellout crowd of 15,325 at the Kohl Center.
The decision was huge on a variety of fronts, most notably that it ended a seven-game winless streak that dragged the Badgers down to seventh place in the Western Collegiate Hockey Association and put them on the road for the opening round of the playoffs.
The triumph, the first for UW since Jan. 29, means it will reconnect with the sixth-place Tigers starting Friday in Colorado Springs. The survivor of the best-of-three series advances to the WCHA Final Five in St. Paul, Minn.
Since the Badgers (20-14-4 overall) now sit 21st in the Pairwise rankings, a formula that measures NCAA tournament worthiness, they will most likely have to win the Broadmoor Trophy as league playoff champion to guarantee a berth in the 16‑team field.
"We know our course," UW coach Mike Eaves said. "We have to win on the road. Then we have to go to the Final Five and we have to probably win (there). But that's been done."
The cathartic decision came on Senior Night and prominently featured two members of the six-person class.
Gudmandson made 33 saves, got his first career assist and registered his first win since Jan. 28, a span of five starts.
Left winger Patrick Johnson, meanwhile, scored a goal for the third straight game and spearheaded an inspired, productive outing.
Sophomore center Craig Smith (shorthanded) and sophomore defenseman Justin Schultz (power play) also scored goals for UW, their 17th and 18th of the season, respectively.
After the Badgers endured a 3-2 loss in the series opener Friday night - a decision that assured they would open the playoffs on the road for the fourth time since 2002-03 - Eaves talked about how many great stories have been written in times of desperation.
It helps UW's cause to have Gudmandson back to his old self.
In his previous four outings, the goalie allowed 19 goals, including seven in a loss at St. Cloud State Feb. 26. But it was how he handled the most recent result that impressed Eaves.
For the first time in his career, Gudmandson declined to watch a detailed video breakdown of a game. He said everything that could go wrong did. He knew he didn't play well. Why relive the misery?
"I didn't think it was necessary," Gudmandson said.
When he told that to Eaves last Monday before practice, Eaves immediately got a sense that Gudmandson would be OK. That was confirmed Saturday night.
"He was excellent," Eaves said. "He made some unbelievable saves, but the thing that was most impressive from the bench was his rebound control."
CC coach Scott Owens said the pre-series reports suggested Gudmandson, who was leading the nation in goals-against average (now at 2.20) and save percentage (now at 92.1) at the end of January, was in a funk.
"I thought he looked real good," Owens said.
"I just had to keep working through it," Gudmandson said.
The second-period conversions by Smith and Johnson, both off odd-man rushes, gave the Badgers their first two-goal lead in 24 periods spanning nine games.
After the Tigers (19-16-3) cut the deficit in half midway through the third - a shot by center Archie Skalbeck doinked off Schultz's skate and past Gudmandson - Schultz was redeemed on the power play and moved within one of the school record for most goals by a defenseman in a season in the process.
Johnson looks like he's on a personal crusade. He has six goals in the past nine games and eight overall, tying his career high set as a freshman. For perspective, he has as many conversions since Jan. 29 as he had as a sophomore and junior combined.
What's up with that?
"Good question," Johnson said with a huge smile. "I'd like to tell you. I have no idea, but I'm running with it."
CC played without leading goal-scorer Tyler Johnson. Owens was asked if there was any pre-postseason gamesmanship involved in that move.
"He's been sore for two weeks and we want to save him for the playoffs," Owens said. "There's nothing (calculated) there."