GRAND FORKS, N.D. -- Apparently last weekend's sweep of Miami did far more for the University of North Dakota men's hockey team than secure home ice for the first round of the National Collegiate Hockey Conference playoffs.
The Fighting Hawks, buoyed by two important road wins at Miami, ran their winning streak to three games tonight with a 5-2 victory over St. Cloud State in the opening game of a best-of-3 NCHC quarterfinal series.
"I think so, a little bit,'' UND coach Brad Berry said of building on the Miami sweep. "I think the biggest thing is re-setting. It seems like early the year we've had success and then, for whatever reason, the next night, it's a different story.''
Other than a spate of penalty troubles that led to both St. Cloud State goals, including a 5-on-3 tally by former Grand Forks Red River standout Jacob Benson, UND had control of the game for the most part.
UND zipped to a 2-0 lead, thanks to a lucky break, and a bad Husky turnover.
Rhett Gardner's backhand centering pass from the right wall deflected off the stick of SCSU captain Jimmy Schuldt at 13:39 of the opening period and fluttered into the net for a 1-0 UND lead, Gardner credited with his seventh of the season.
Just 74 seconds later, a defensive zone turnover by Daniel Tedesco allowed UND's leading scorer, Shane Gersich, to sail in alone on SCS goalie Jeff Smith and beat him cleanly with a low wrist shot stick side.
Gersich's 20th goal of the season, and just his second in the last 10 games, made it 2-0. Gerisch became the first UND sophomore to score 20 or more goals since Brock Nelson scored 28 in his soph season in 2011-12.
After Benson chopped the lead in half with his 11th goal of the season at 9:43 of the second period, UND sophomore Brock Boeser answered that with a rocket of a one-time slap shot on the power play from the top of the left faceoff circle at 16:27 for a 3-1 lead. It was his 14th goal of the season and came after Boeser sat out the series at Miami last weekend with an injury.
On the goal, UND junior defenseman Tucker Poolman drew the first assist, his second assist of the game and giving him 30 points on the season. The last UND defenseman with 30 or more points was Chay Genoway in 2010-11 when he had 37 points.
But both times the Huskies scored, UND answered.
St. Cloud native Austin Poganski took a long lead pass off the right wall from Shane Gersich, slipped past St. Cloud State defenseman Schuldt and beat Smith cleanly with a backhander as he moved from right to left across the crease. That made it 4-2 at 12:18 of the third period with Poganski collecting his 10th goal.
Joel Jantuinen iced it with 45 second left, scoring his eighth of the year into an empty net with Smith pulled for a sixth attacker 15 seconds earlier.
UND outshot the Huskies 36-28 and finished 1-of-3 on the power play to 2-of-5 for the Huskies (16-18-1), who lost to UND for the fourth time in five meetings this season.
The victory leaves UND (19-14-3) one win away of advancing to the NCHC Frozen Faceoff next weekend in St. Paul and was an important step in trying to secure an NCAA tournament bid for the 15th straight year.
With the win, UND moved up from 12th to 11th in the Pairwise rankings, used to determine the 16-team NCAA tournament field.
Boeser, who has been been bothered by wrist problems most of the season and had surgery on his wrist in December, said he was told in morning skate Friday that he was going to be in the lineup in Game 1.
"My wrist felt good in morning skate. Coach gave me the green light,'' said Boeser. "I think the week off was really good. Tonight I just wanted to come in and bring energy and help the team have success and build off of last weekend.''
The wrist held up well, it appeared, judging by the rocket that Boeser, an All-America pick last year, unleashed past Smith.
UND can now end St. Cloud State's season with a win in the rematch Saturday, or if needed, a win in Game 3 on Sunday.
"Going into the second period, I thought we kind of took our foot off the pedal,'' Poganski said. "In the third, we got back to our game and I thought we did pretty well. Hopefully we can transfer that over into tomorrow.''
Poganski, too, felt the sweep of Miami factored into the sound performance tonight. "I thought we really grew as a team last weekend, and played a full 60 minutes on Saturday (a 5-2 win).''
Berry liked what he saw.
"I thought it was a pretty solid effort,'' he said. "I thought we had a good jump in the first period, and the second period kind of got away a little bit just from taking a few penalties (three) in a row. That's where they gained a little bit of momentum. In general, I thought in the third period, we got our feet back on the ground.''
By doing so, the Fighting Hawks ground out a crucial Game 1 win, always important in a best-of-3 series.
"For the most part, I thought it was a solid effort,'' Berry said.
"Tomorrow is going to be another challenge,'' Berry said. "We need to up our level. Tomorrow is going to be a harder game. We have to make sure our level goes up.''
Game notes: The three stars, as voted on by the media, were Tucker Poolman (2 assists, 4 blocked shots, 3 shots on goal) as first star, Gersich (goal, assist) as second star and Poganski (goal), third star ... Freshman Tyson Jost led UND in shots on goal with seven, more than tripling the three shots for Poganski, Poolman and Gersich ... UND had 17 blocked shots, five of them by captain Gage Ausmus to lead the team ... Cam Johnson had 26 saves for UND, 14 of them in the second period when UND was outshot 15-12 ... Smith finished with 31 saves as the Huskies dropped two games under .500 at 16-18-1 and to No. 20 in the Pairwise rankings ... With UND students gone for spring break, there were 10,413 tickets sold, about 1,000 shy of a sellout ... Junior forward Johnny Simonson played in his 100th career game.