GRAND FORKS, N.D. -- Pressure? What pressure?
All North Dakota needed Saturday night at rocking Ralph Engelstad Arena was a little help from their friends and a favorable outcome for the Fighting Hawks against the No 1 team in the nation, St . Cloud State.
All that with a streak of 15-straight years of having home ice for the playoffs riding on the outcome and a similar streak of consecutive trips to the NCAA Tournament at stake as well.
Even though UND blew a two-goal lead (2-0) for the fifth time in the last 11 games, the Fighting Hawks held on for a 2-2 overtime tie, and picked up an extra bonus point in the National Collegiate Hockey Conference standings on junior center Rhett Gardner's goal in the 3-on-3 second overtime.
That, coupled with losses by Colorado College and Omaha, secured fourth place in the final standings for UND and the right to open NCHC playoffs at home next weekend against fifth-place Omaha in a best-of-three, beginning Friday.
"Our first goal every year is to get home ice in the playoffs, whether we're first, second, third or fourth (in the final NCHC standings),'' Gardner said.
North Dakota had to overcome a lot in this game to earn the home ice. In the first period alone, Josh Rieger, Nick Jones and Christian Wolanin all hit pipes and a UND goal was disallowed by a quick whistle on shot that hit Husky goalie David Hrenak, but trickled through and into the net. But because the whistle had blown first before the referee saw the puck wasn't covered, the goal didn't count.
Then in the second period, UND's Joel Janatuinen hit the post as well, giving UND four pipes and a ton of frustration to play through.
"That's kind of been the story of our year,'' Gardner said, "but I think we've got a resilient group. No matter what happens, we stick to it and grind it out. Just like tonight, we give up a 2-goal lead, but we stuck to it and did what we had to do.''
Said UND coach Brad Berry: "You kind of wonder about the puck-luck stuff, but you know what, you've got to create your own puck-luck. I thought the guys did a good job of doing that tonight.''
One who did early on in the game was freshman wing Grant Mismash. He staked UND to a 1-0 lead in the first period on his power-play goal at the 5-minute mark. Defenseman Christian Wolanin had his point shot blocked, biut Mismash scooped up the deflection and rifled a wrister past Hrenak, his ninth marker of the season.
UND struck again on the power play at 14:49 of the second period. Gardner sniped the far corner on Hrenak after a cross-ice feed from Wolanin, Gardner's seventh goal of the year to make it 2-0.
The Huskies rallied with power-plays goals from Ryan Poehling at 2:42 and from Grand Forks Red River product Jacob Benson at 9:22 of the third period to tie it.
After a scoreless 5-on-5 overtime that secured UND the one point needed to clinch home ice, Gardner then delivered a second point with his goal at 4:14 of a 3-on-3 overtime.
"Every time we talk from the beginning of the season,'' UND head coach Brad Berry said, "we have a list of goals in front of us. The very first one is to get home ice. It took us to the last game of the regular season to get home ice ... but we did. We're not off the hook yet. We still have to win games to get into the national tournament. And that's the next box. Getting to the Frozen Faceoff (NCHC tourney in St. Paul) is another box. We've got the list in front of us. We got the first one, now we keep moving.''
UND had to move fast again against the Penrose Cup-winning Huskies and nation's No. 1 team. The Fighting Hawks responded with what Berry called one of the best two-game series' for UND this year, on a par with a pair of ties against defending national champion Denver University in late January.
"I think it's inner pride, of what they have in them, the challege at hand,'' Berry said, "knowing you have to play your best against teams that have a little depth and offensive ability.''
On Senior Weekend, senior goalie Cam Johnson counted among his 23 stops a huge save on Blake Lizotte of the Huskies on a breakaway in the second overtime.
So despite giving up a two-goal lead against a highly-rated team and putting home ice in jeopardy, there was confidence brewing on the UND side ... perhaps.
"Never a doubt,'' deadpanned Wolanin, who assisted on all three UND goals. "We set a couple of goals at the start of the year and home ice is one of them. So we're not going to question how or why. Glad we got it, for sure.''
Game notes: On Senior Weekend, Johnson, Johnny Simonson, Trevor Olson and Austin Poganski were honored on ice before the game and with a post-game video on each player on the giant screen over the ice ... UND was 2-for-7 on the power play with 10 shots, the Huskies 1-of-5 with 6 shots ... The game drew a sellout of 12,093 ... Named the three stars by the media were Wolanin, Benson and Gardner, in that order ... St. Cloud State will host eighth-place Miami in its first-round series next weekend ... Mismash and Gardner led UND in shots on goal with 5 each while Mikey Eyssimont had 5 for the Huskies ... UND has played in 13 overtime games this year and is 1-2-10 ... This was the first time this season in four tries that UND has won in the 3-on-3 OT ... SCSU won the faceoffs 36-35, but Gardner was 16 of 27 for UND.
Virg Foss covered UND hockey for the Grand Forks Herald for 35 seasons, including national championship teams in 1980, 1982, 1987, 1997 and 2000. Since his retirement in 2005, he's covered UND games exclusively for undsports.com for 13 seasons, including the 2016 national championship team.