Yet fifth-ranked North Dakota (19-9-7, 14-6-7 WCHA) found a way to eke out a 4-3 WCHA win tonight over host Minnesota State, relying on timely scoring and rock-solid goaltending.
Carter Rowney and Rocco Grimaldi each had a goal and an assist, Mark MacMillan scored a shorthanded goal, and Stephane Pattyn scored a key third-period goal to pick up the offensive slack, while freshman goalie Zane Gothberg made 37 saves at the other end to keep UND alive in the MacNaughton Cup race.
"We didn't have our best in a lot of areas but we had some guys that stepped up and made a difference," said UND head coach Dave Hakstol.
St. Cloud State clinched a share of the league title with tonight's win at Wisconsin, but UND managed to stay within two points and remain tied for second place with Minnesota. A UND win tomorrow, coupled with a SCSU loss, would give UND a share of its league-record 16th straight conference title.
A share of the league crown didn't look so promising for UND through the first 30 minutes tonight. The Mavericks blitzed UND in the opening period with a 12-2 shots on goal advantage, limiting UND to its lowest output of any period this season.
Freshman Teddy Blueger opened the scoring with five minutes left in the frame, and the Mavericks were in complete control heading into the first intermission.
But UND slowly found its footing in the second period until senior Carter Rowney was able to tie the game midway through the frame, re-directing a Dillon Simpson pass over the shoulder of MSU goalie Stephon Williams.
UND grabbed its first lead while shorthanded with three minutes left in the second when sophomore Mark MacMillan stripped Williams of the puck behind is net, and tucked it into the open cage for his second shorthanded goal of the year. However, MSU replied just 17 seconds later while still on the power play on Eriah Hayes' team-leading 19th of the season and the teams went into the second intermission tied 2-2.
An unlikely hero stepped forward for UND in the third period. Sophomore Stephane Pattyn, mired in a 28-game goal-scoring drought, intercepted an MSU pass in the Mavericks' slot, walked in alone and beat Williams low to the stick side, putting UND back on top with 13:14 remaining.
"I thought if it was quick - it wasn't hard but it was quick - I can beat him," said Pattyn, who hadn't scored since Nov. 3. "Our line's been working hard, we just haven't been able to get one for our team. It helps when all four lines are scoring and that's what we need for the rest of the season.
"They came out hard. It wasn't pretty but it's a good, greasy road win and we'll take it."
Freshman Rocco Grimaldi sealed the win with an empty netter to make it 4-2 with 35 seconds remaining, a goal that proved to be vital as MSU answered one more time 15 seconds later.
"It's a road win. We greased one out. A win is a win and the boys are happy," said Rowney. "They took it to us at the beginning. Zane was stellar throughout the night and gave us a chance to win the game."
Gothberg finished with a career-high 37 saves, including 14 in the final 20 minutes.
"We've played some games this year where you walk away feeling like you deserved a heck of a lot better. Sometimes things have a way of evening out," said Hakstol. "This is the first one I can remember where we didn't have our best for 60 minutes, we were on our heels for a good part of the game, but some good individual performances, gave us a chance to pull out the two points."
UND and MSU will close out the regular season tomorrow night. UND can finish no lower than third place in the WCHA, with a share of the MacNaughton Cup still a possibility.
"We just came in tonight trying to give ourselves a chance tomorrow, depending on how other teams do," said Rowney. "If we can grab a little piece of it, we want to give ourselves that chance."
Notes: Grimaldi extended his career-best point streak to eight games ... Senior center Corban Knight was held without a point for the second straight game, the first time that's happened all season ... A victory on Saturday would give Dave Hakstol 20 wins in each of his nine seasons at UND ... Gothberg, Hayes and Rowney were named the game's three stars ... UND will host either Michigan Tech or Bemidji State in the first round of the WCHA playoffs next weekend in Grand Forks.