DULUTH, Minn. – North Dakota got the fast start it so desperately wanted on Saturday night at AMSOIL Arena. What happened the rest of the way, though, became all too familiar.
Shane Gersich and Austin Poganski scored 30 seconds apart to stake the seventh-ranked Fighting Hawks to a 2-0 lead before the game was seven minutes old, but Minnesota Duluth responded with five unanswered to goals to defeat the Fighting Hawks 5-2 and cap off a NCHC series sweep.
The sweep left the 14th-ranked Bulldogs just a point behind UND in the chase for the fourth and final home ice spot in the NCHC Playoffs.
One night earlier, UND was forced to play from behind after falling down two goals. Tonight, it flipped the script when Shane Gersich scored on his own rebound on a breakaway at 6:36 of the first period, then Poganski followed with a wrister from the right circle that beat UMD goalie Hunter Shepard glove side.
From there, UND was done in by ineffective special teams and a lackluster second period, replicating the issues that plagued the Hawks one night earlier.
Poganski’s goal came during a delayed penalty on Minnesota Duluth. But UND was unable to stretch the lead to 3-0 with the man advantage, and Jared Thomas got the Bulldogs on the board midway through the period when a rebound ricocheted off his body and into the net. UND came up empty on another power play later in the period, a theme that haunted the Hawks throughout the weekend.
Then, as it had done one night earlier, UMD took the game over in the second period, blitzing UND with a 17-3 shots-on-goal advantage and a pair of power-play goals by rookie defenseman Scott Perunovich that came 16 seconds apart.
Parker Mackay added a power-play tally midway through the third period and Riley Tufte scored on an empty net for the second straight night to close it out.
When the smoke had cleared, Minnesota Duluth had scored three power-play goals for the second straight night and killed all four UND opportunities with the man advantage, leaving UND players and coaches searching for answers.
“Penalties,” lamented UND head coach Brad Berry, whose team dropped to 12-8-6 overall and 6-6-2-2 in the NCHC. “You take one penalty and kill it, but when you take two or three in a row that’s what hurts. It was the same thing last night. We got the start we wanted, but took a couple of penalties which gave them momentum.
“We had a couple of power plays before they got their power plays. If we get one of them to make it 3-0, it’s a little bit different game,” said Berry.
Instead, it was the Bulldogs who took full advantage of their power play chances, finishing the night 3-6 and the series a scorching 6-11.
“Our PK has won us games throughout the year but this week it let us down,” said junior forward Nick Jones, who extended his point streak to a career-high five games with an assist on Poganski’s goal. “It’s disappointing. We’ve got to get back to the drawing board with it. It’s just little things with that.”
UND captain Poganski said problems on the penalty kill – which allowed just two goals in the first 12 games of the season – are correctible.
“We definitely have to be more sharp on the details of the penalty kill, whether it’s sticks in lanes, knocking down passes…just everyone being on the same page,” said Poganski, who also pushed his point streak to a career-best five games. “When we look back at film we’ll see there’s little things we could have done better.”
UND’s own power play, second-last in the NCHC entering the night, finished the weekend series 1-12.
“It’s not just the PK – our power play was awful all weekend as well,” said Jones. “It’s one thing if you’re not scoring, but if you’re not creating momentum it’s disappointing. We’ve got a good bunch of guys and we’re going to figure it out.”
The Fighting Hawks will need to figure it out in a hurry with league-leading Denver coming to Grand Forks next weekend. The Pioneers emerged from the weekend with the nation’s fifth-ranked power play and 10th-best penalty kill.
“It’s one of those things where we’re going through a tough time right now. We never, ever hang excuses on anything. We just know we have to get better and we have to make sure this group stays together, and we will. We’ve been through adversity before,” said Berry.
Added Jones: “You go in here looking to get six points and you get zero. Obviously it’s disappointing.”
Notes: The Bulldogs outshot the Fighting Hawks 33-20 … Cam Johnson made 28 saves in the loss and Shepard notched 18 for the win … Attendance was 6,903, a sellout … Despite playing without Rhett Gardner – the NCHC leader in faceoff wins – for a third straight game, UND had a 37-26 edge in faceoffs, led by Jones (14-9) and Johnny Simonson (10-3).