MINNEAPOLIS – Top-ranked Denver came into the NCHC Frozen Faceoff as the stingiest defensive team in the country, allowing fewer than two goals a game, and had given up more than three goals just once all season.
Rather than try to race the Pioneers to be the first to three goals in tonight’s semifinal matchup, North Dakota flipped the scrip.
Junior goaltender Cam Johnson registered his ninth career shutout (and first since November), UND limited the Pioneers to just 21 shots on goal, and Austin Poganski’s goal 2:30 into the third period stood up as the game’s only goal as the Fighting Hawks defeated DU 1-0 to advance to the NCHC title game for the first time.
UND will face Minnesota Duluth, which defeated Western Michigan 5-2 in Friday’s early semifinal game.
More importantly, the victory all but assured UND a spot in the 16-team NCAA Tournament, regardless of Saturday’s outcome. It would be UND’s 15th straight postseason appearance, extending the second-longest streak in NCAA DI men’s hockey history.
UND did not receive much PairWise help from other games around the country and required a win over the red-hot Pioneers, winners of 13 games in a row, to extend that postseason streak. The Fighting Hawks executed their game plan superbly, holding DU’s top line of Henrik Borgstrom (1 shot on goal), Jarid Lukosevicius (1) and Troy Terry (4) and going a perfect 3-3 on the penalty kill.
“Tonight, there wasn’t a lot of room on the ice tonight again,” said UND head coach Brad Berry, “and we found a way to score one goal to make the difference.”
Poganski cashed in the game’s only goal early in the third period when Colton Poolman’s shot from the left point caromed wildly off the end boards to the bottom of the right circle, where Poganski was all alone to deposit it past sprawling DU netminder Tanner Jaillet.
UND locked things down the rest of the way, winning a fifth straight game for the first time since October.
Johnson wasn’t at his busiest on this night – and received a little help in the way of a Dylan Gambrell crossbar in the second period – but was steady when called upon in making his ninth career shutout, tied with Aaron Dell for fourth all-time at UND.
It was also the first 1-0 playoff win in school history.
“We were playing the right way, doing the little things,” said Johnson. “I didn’t have to do too much work tonight – my team made it a little bit easier on me. When I needed to step up and make a save, I was there. It was a group effort today. We played well and obviously the result showed.”
Although the big story was the boost to UND’s national tournament hopes, the Fighting Hawks will first focus on trying to win its first NCHC Frozen Faceoff championship after having played in the third-place game in each of the league’s first three years.
“We don’t get ahead of ourselves,” said Berry. “We were in the locker room after the game and there was a focus there. Yeah, the guys were excited, they were happy, but they know there’s a bigger thing and the bigger thing is trying to win the league championship tomorrow.
“These guys were focused and dialed in. It’s a business trip and these guys played liked it tonight.”
Notes: Johnson, Poganski and Tyson Jost (1 assist, 6 SOG) were named the game’s three stars … UND outshot the Pioneers 24-21 … The Fighting Hawks were 0-4 on the power play with six shots on goal … Only Karl Goehring (15), Jean-Philippe Lamoureux (10) and Jordan Parise (10) had more career shutouts than Johnson (9).