GRAND FORKS, N.D. -- Perhaps the light at the end of the tunnel for a struggling UND men's hockey team dealing with key injuries as well can be found in the schedule ahead.
North Dakota, which dropped to 2-5-1 at home in National Collegiate Hockey Conference games following tonight's 4-0 whitewashing from Minnesota Duluth, play six of their 10 remaining league games on the road, where UND is 4-2 in league play this season.
The Fighting Hawks (6-7-1-1 NCHC 13-9-3 overall) have road trips remaining to Colorado College, Western Michigan and Miami as well as two games each at home with St. Cloud State and Omaha to close the regular season.
Freshman goalie Hunter Miska hung a 29-save shutout on UND, the first time it has been shut out at home since an identical 4-0 score against St. Cloud State on Oct. 28, 2011.
Minnesota Duluth swept all four games from UND this season, outscoring the Fighting Hawks 17-5 and shutting them out twice. Coupled with a Minnesota Duluth win over UND in the NCHC playoff semifinals last year, the Bulldogs have won five straight from UND. The last team to do that was Denver, from 2004-05, including one game in the 2003-04 season regional.
The NCHC-leading Bulldogs (11-4-1-1 NCHC, 15-5-4 overall) scored three times off of UND turnovers and a fourth on power play to overwhelm UND, missing frosh star Tyson Jost and sophomore Joel Janatuinen, both injured in Friday's 5-3 UND loss.
As a result, coach Brad Berry had to shuffle all four of his front lines and one defensive pairing. The team struggled for offense against Miska and the Bulldogs, now ranked No. 1 nationally in the Pairwise rankings. North Dakota slipped from ninth to 11th in those rankings following the Bulldog sweep.
Minnesota Duluth made UND suffer from its turnovers, incuding one just 2:54 into the game by Adam Johnson, one of three unassisted goals by the Bulldogs.
"It's about breaking out with a method,'' Berry said. "They came at us hard. There were some uncontested breakouts that we had that we didn't do the details. They capitalized on them. That's one area that when you are playing a big, heavy team, you have to be good at. We weren't very good tonight.''
Senior defenseman Willie Raskob scored on a center point wrist shot on a power play at 12:15 of the opening period to build Minnesota Duluth's lead to 2-0.
A scoreless second period could have easily have turned the game UND's direction a bit. UND walk-on forward Mike Gornall was stopped on a breakaway early in the period. Then on a UND power play, defenseman Matt Shaw tipped in a point shot from Christian Wolanin at 18:15, only to have the goal disallowed for playing the puck with a high stick.
The frustration continued into the final seconds of the period when UND sophomore wing Chris Wilkie, still looking for his first goal of the season, hit the crossbar from in front of the net as the period expired.
Minnesota Duluth added a shorthanded, unassisted goal by Dominic Toninato at 2:07 of the third period off a turnover and an unassisted goal by Riley Tufte off yet another UND defensive zone turnover at 13:23 to round off the scoring.
At one point in the second period, UND had 10 straight shots on goal to none for the Bulldogs.
"Up until the third goal, I thought we had a push there, and I thought we had a lot of the momentum,'' Berry said. "Once that third goal went in, it was a little bit different game.''
It was a frustrated UND team that left the ice.
"We've got to get to another level,'' Berry said, "and we got to start working Monday to get there.''
The frustrations were certainly felt by UND junior wing Trevor Olson, a Duluth native.
"It's tough,'' he said. "You come to North Dakota, all you hear about is winning, winning, winning. winning, winning. When things aren't going your way and you're not playing the right way . . . it's tough. It's tough as a group, and it's tough individually. You've got to look yourself in the mirror and understand if you're giving it all you've got.''
UND did outshoot the Bulldogs 29-21, but defensive miscues and tough luck offensively added up UND's fourth home loss in the last five games.
Olson tipped his hat to Minnesota Duluth.
"They're a good team. Big, fast, physical, veteran group .. . the way they play, they just frustrate team,'' Olson said.
Wilkie faulted himself for missing his chance at the end of the second period.
"I've got to find a way to put that in the net,'' he said. "That makes a big difference, going into the third period (down) 2-1 as opposed to 2-nothing. But I guess that's the way hockey goes sometimes.''
Game notes: UND won the faceoff battle 39-26 led by Brock Boeser (16 of 21) and Rhett Gardner (11 of 16) ... Boeser led UND in shots on net with 4, followed by Tucker Poolman , Zach Yon and Shane Gersich with 3 ... Berry said that Jost and Janatuinen will be evaluated during the week to determine their status for the series next weekend at Colorado College ... Minnesota Duluth swept the media vote of three stars with Miska, Johnson and Toninato winning in that order ... UND slipped out of the first division in the NCHC and into fifth place, two points behind fourth-place Omaha and one point ahead of sixth-place St. Cloud State.
Virg Foss covered UND hockey for the Grand Forks Herald for 35 seasons, including five NCAA championships, prior to his retirement in 2005. He's in his 12th year of reporting on UND home games exclusively for UNDsports.com.