DULUTH, Minn. -- Top-ranked North Dakota was done in tonight by an eight-minute stretch during which its special teams units were anything but.
Minnesota Duluth book-ended a power-play goal with a pair of short-handed tallies in the latter half of the second period to turn a scoreless tie into a 3-0 victory and series sweep over the top-ranked Fighting Hawks.
Second-ranked UMD swept UND for the first time since Jan. 1995 and will likely overtake their NCHC rivals atop the national polls come Monday.
The Bulldogs used opportunistic special teams play to blow a tightly-played game wide open in the middle frame, getting short-handed goals from Karson Kuhlman and Kyle Osterberg, plus a power-play snipe from Carson Soucy.
North Dakota (5-2-0, 0-2-0 NCHC) finished the night 0-for-8 with the man advantage, including a pair of scoreless 5-on-3 opportunities.
“They beat us special teams-wise,” UND sophomore winger Brock Boeser matter-of-factly stated.
UND, looking to avenge last night’s 5-2 loss in the series opener, saw Saturday’s game turn within the matter of a single minute.
With Neal Pionk and Brendan Kotyk in the box midway through the second period, the Fighting Hawks looked to break open the scoreless tie. But a turnover led to an odd-man rush into the UND zone and, with a delayed penalty coming on the Fighting Hawks, Kuhlman beat UND netminder Cam Johnson with a wrist shot from the top of the circle.
In just a little over a minute on the clock, UND went from enjoying a two-man advantage to being down a goal and defenseman Christian Wolanin headed to the penalty box.
Just over four minutes later, Soucy beat Johnson through a screen from the other circle while on the power play, and Osterberg took advantage of another UND turnover and odd-man rush with 58 seconds left in the period, converting a Willie Raskob feed for a 3-0 short-handed goal.
That eight-minute sequence, coupled with a first-period two-man advantage for UND that also came up empty, and special teams play was the decisive factor tonight.
“Penalty kill, power play…I think we’ve got to clean some stuff up there and get our units on the same page,” said junior assistant captain Johnny Simonson.
Even when UND’s power play was crisp, as it was during the first-period five-on-three, it couldn’t find the net. On that sequence, Tyson Jost rang a shot off the post and on the rebound Austin Poganski whiffed on the bouncing puck with goalie Hunter Miska down and out.
That, in a nutshell, summed up a series in which UND scored just once on 13 power-play tries.
“The five-on-three was huge,” said Poganski. “We had a few chances that probably should’ve been goals, especially the first period five-on-three. That kind of killed us.”
UND head coach Brad Berry thought his team’s effort was much better compared to Friday’s showing.
“Playing against very a good team, you have to be opportunistic with the opportunities you have,” said Berry. “We had two five-on-threes and you have to score on them. They do really a good job of blocking shots. I don’t know how many shot blocks they had tonight but they take away shooting lanes. You’ve got to win a faceoff early and get pucks to the net. I think maybe we handled pucks a little too much and didn’t get that shot on net right away to back them off.”
Miska finished with 30 saves for his second shutout of the season.
“Hats off to Duluth. I haven’t seen a team block shots like that in a long time,” said Simonson. “It’s not the result that we wanted. I think five on five our team played well tonight. A couple of special teams hiccups that we’d like to have back. We’re playing hard, but at the end of the day two losses in a row isn’t what we want. We’re going to go back to the ralph and prepare for a pretty tough week of practice, I’m sure.”
Simonson and teammates now must turn their attention to a road series at old rival Minnesota. Berry said he was not concerned about the confidence level of his youthful squad.
“We have very good leadership in our locker room. We can go back to last year when we lost two games in Denver and bounced back from there. We ran into a very good team at home that was committed. We’ll be ready for next week.”
“At North Dakota,” said Poganski, “we’re known for playing hard and playing fast for all 60 minutes and I don’t think we’ve done it this year yet.”
Notes: The sweep was just the second road sweep for North Dakota in the last five years. Prior to last February at Denver, UND had not been swept since Nov. 2011 at Minnesota … Kuhlman, Miska and Osterber were tonight’s three stars … The Fighting Hawks have lost just three times in the last 21 games and all three came at the hands of UMD.