DENVER -- When freshman forward Rocco Grimaldi opened the scoring just 2:59 into tonight's game at Denver, it appeared sixth-ranked North Dakota was off to the kind of start it takes to win on the road in the WCHA.
But UND was unable to sustain that early momentum, a theme that would haunt it all night in an eventual 5-4 loss to the 10th-ranked Pioneers.
Despite UND goals in the opening minutes of each of the first two periods, DU was able to build leads of 4-2 and 5-3 before withstanding a final UND rally in the third period to hang on for the victory.
Five different Pioneers scored while goalie Juho Olkinuora made 35 saves. For head coach Dave Hakstol, UND was its own worst enemy.
" I thought we were a very sloppy hockey team tonight. It cost us an opportunity at points," said Hakstol. "You have to be able to sustain that push. You can't just come out with a one or two shift burst. We didn't sustain a whole lot through the entire night."
A Carter Rowney goal 68 seconds into the second period put UND up 2-1, but DU responded with three straight including power-play tallies by Chris Knowlton and Joe LaLaggia to go ahead 4-2.
UND senior Corban Knight cut the deficit to 4-3 with a power-play one-timer from the left circle midway through the second period, but Nick Score restored DU's 2-goal lead early in the third period, crashing the net and banging a rebound past Clarke Saunders.
UND responded with a short-handed goal five minutes later by Danny Kristo, who received a perfect 2-on-1 saucer pass from Knight and beat Olkinuora for his team-leading 19th goal of the season.
UND put heavy pressure on the Pioneers the rest of the way, recording 17 third-period shots, but could not put a fifth goal past Olkinuora, who was spectacular at times. His diving, cross-crease stick save on Knight kept DU in position to hang on to the win.
"That goalie made some pretty incredible saves," said sophomore defenseman Nick Mattson. "He pulled a couple of good ones out. At the same time we had 39 shots on net and we probably could have buried a few more."
"I thought there was probably four or five real good chances their goaltender made real good saves on, but when you don't play at a sustained level, more often than not you're leaving things to chance. You're leaving it to a bounce of the puck, you're leaving it to a penalty call, you're leaving it to a great save or two by the opposing goaltender. And that's what we did tonight. We didn't do all the things that we can do to win a hockey game."
The loss snapped UND's 5-game unbeaten streak.
Knight said the effort has to be much better on Saturday night.
"First off we need to be prepared and come with a little more intensity," said Knight. "Tonight wasn't indicative of the way we've played the last couple of weeks. We need to step up and re-focus for tomorrow."
Saunders finished with 14 saves on 16 shots after relieving Zane Gothberg, who was pulled after DU went up 3-2. Gothberg stopped 22 of 25 shots.
UND went 1-for-7 on the power play while the Pioneers went 2-for-5.
The two teams face off Saturday night at 8:07 p.m. Central.