The first thing Gophers forward Taylor Heise noticed was the smile.
As goaltender Makayla Pahl skated away from the Minnesota net and shook her pads in celebration, she wore a grin that Heise could see from across the ice.
"It just made my heart melt," Heise said.
Pahl had good reason to smile. She had just won the No. 2-ranked Gophers a shootout after a game that officially goes down as a 2-2 overtime tie with No. 1 Wisconsin on Saturday. Pahl had also earned Minnesota an additional point in the WCHA standings.
And Pahl, along with the Gophers, showed they belong in the conversation with the top-ranked Badgers.
"It proves to us that we can skate with them and that we can play their game," Heise said.
Just a couple of weeks ago, that remained unclear. The Badgers swept the Gophers at home in January by a combined score of 11-3, knocking Minnesota down from the No. 1 ranking.
"We got our butts kicked when we went out there," Gophers coach Brad Frost said Saturday.
That had continued a troubling trend for Minnesota. Wisconsin entered this weekend with an 8-3-1 record against the Gophers over the past 12 games. Friday's result didn't help, either. Just as Minnesota looked like it would get its first win over the Badgers, Wisconsin came from behind and snatched it away in overtime.
"We were just done with losing and done getting taken advantage of by them," Heise said.
The Gophers made that apparent Saturday afternoon.
Minnesota started fast and really never slowed down. That translated to a higher volume of opportunities late in the first period as they outshot Wisconsin 12-7 in the opening frame.
But shots often don't directly translate to goals, as the first period showed. Trailing in shots, the Badgers took a 1-0 lead with 1:03 left in the period with a Sophie Shirley goal.
The barrage of Minnesota shots continued in the second. About halfway through, the Gophers peppered Wisconsin goaltender Kennedy Blair with puck after puck after puck. In a span of about two minutes, Minnesota had one hit the pipe, one go wide, two saved by Blair and five stopped by defensemen.
None went in.
Still, the Gophers didn't give up, even when Wisconsin took a 2-0 lead off a goal from Maddi Wheeler.
Minnetonka's Maggie Nicholson put the Gophers on the board with 4:39 left in the second period, and Breck grad Grace Zumwinkle scored with 5:44 left in regulation to tie the game.
"We stayed composed," Heise said. "That's definitely a word we've tried to keep in our minds. Staying neutral, not getting too high and not getting too low, is always a big idea for us."
Pahl, a sophomore from Rochester, made the comeback possible as she stopped 21 of 23 shots on goal. Her composure in overtime and in the shootout prevented Wisconsin from walking away having one-upped the Gophers yet again.
A victory over the Badgers in regulation or overtime still eludes the Gophers this season. But if they play each other in the postseason, this weekend proved that a Minnesota victory over Wisconsin is much more possible than it appeared a few weeks ago.
"I think it shows the resolve and character of our group," Frost said, "to stay with it."