GRAND FORKS, N.D. -- Winning one game in a row hasn't been North Dakota's problem this season with 15 wins under its belt.
The true test comes Saturday night, and an important one it is.
After the Fighting Hawks blanked Omaha 4-0 Friday night in the opener of a best-of-3 National Collegiate Hockey Conference quarterfinal series, the big test awaits.
North Dakota will attempt to sweep a series for the first time since Dec. 1-2, against Western Michigan. Since then, UND has not swept a series in nine tries.
A sweep would bolster UND's Pairwise Ranking (currently 14th) used to select the NCAA's 16-team tournament two weeks from now. And it would send the Fighting Hawks on to the NCHC Frozen Faceoff in St. Paul next weekend, with a chance to bolster its NCAA positioning.
Simply put, UND excelled in the small things tonight in blanking Omaha for the second time this season. Senior goalie Cam Johnson stopped 25 Omaha shots for his third shutout of the season and 12th of his career, behind only Karl Goehring's school-record 15.
UND won this one in part because the clock (er, scoreboard) struck 12 for three Fighting Hawks players. Shane Gersich notched his 12th for a 1-0 lead after one period, and defenseman Christian Wolanin and center Nick Jones collected their 12th as well in the second period. Joel Janatuinen added UND's third goal of the explosive second period for a a four-goal cushion, plenty enough on this night.
"It's a good start,'' UND coach Brad Berry said of the victory. "That's the key word: start. It's just one game. I thought our guys did a lot of good things. The biggest thing is focusing on tomorrow. Tomorrow is another day, and our lives are on the lines still here.''
Ah yes, the troubling inability to sweep an opponent, the elephant in the room for the Hawks of late.
But if the Fighting Hawks can blend opportunistic offense with solid defense and shutdown goaltending as they did tonight, perhaps that difficulty can be overcome at this most crucial time of the season.
Berry cited the high energy level of his team as a key factor tonight. "Having all four lines contribute, short shifts, managing the puck, and not taking a lot of penalties,'' Berry said.
Omaha, which leads the league converting at 25.7 percent on the power play, was blanked on its two tries while UND converted on 1-of-4. Staying out of the penalty box was one of Berry's points of emphasis heading into this series.
"I thought we played a pretty solid 60-minute, 200-foot game,'' said defenseman Colton Poolman, who had two assists. "That's kind of what you have to do this time of the year. I thought our forwards did a great job checking back, making it easier for our 'D'. That's going to be our focus for tomorrow, trying to bring that same game plan back.''
And that will be the challenge Saturday, trying to duplicate this game for the elusive series sweep. "We've got to hit the reset button on it,'' Poolman said. "They're a good team over there. They're going to come back really hard tomorrow.''
Added Wolanin. "We want to play the same way (as Friday). We don't want to play on Sunday -- and they do. They're going to be even more desperate than they were tonight.''
In what was perhaps the most intriguing match in college hockey tonight -- matching two teams battling for a berth in the league semifinals next weekend, and fighting for a higher Pairwise seed, UND got a leg up with the win. It boosted UND ahead of Omaha to 14th in the Pairwise, one spot ahead of the Mavericks. UND finished fourth in the league, Omaha fifth, leading to the uncertainty of the outcome.
"We finally got a Friday night (win),'' Johnson said. "That was key. It's playoff hockey. Intensity has got to ramp up. We were able to do that, so it's a good sign. It shows how resilient our team is.''
Added Johnson: "There's a lot of pressure on us right now. I think we're dealing with it pretty well.''
Johnson's counterpart, Evan Weninger, had 30 saves as UND outshot the Mavericks 34-25.
UND moved to 15-12-10 overall and Omaha dropped to 17-16-2.
Game notes: Janatuinen led UND in shots on goal with five, followed by rookie Grant Mismash and defenseman Hayden Shaw with four each ... Tyler Vesel had four shots for Denver while 20-goal scorer David Pope had just one ... UND lost the faceoff battle 31-29, though Rhett Gardner was 13-8 and Dixon Bowe 8-5 in wins/losses ... Wolanin's goal, his 12th, left him one shy of the UND single-season record for goals by a defenseman (shared by Nick Naumenko, Ian Kidd and John Noah). He currently leads the nation's defensemen in goals.
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.