ST. PAUL, Minn. — If you boil things down to the critical elements in postseason hockey, you usually end up looking at goaltending and special teams.
Both teams had the goaltending in the opening game of the WCHA Final Five Thursday night, but one had the special teams advantage.
That’s why North Dakota is into the league semifinals Friday, headed for a matchup against league champion Denver.
The Fighting Sioux killed all five Minnesota-Duluth power plays and broke a scoreless tie with a third-period shorthanded goal in their 2-0 victory over the Bulldogs.
“It’s been a huge factor for a lot of our wins,” said Jason Gregoire, who scored the shorthanded goal. “We try to limit their puck time, and that’s a huge advantage for us. If they have puck time, they’re making plays and we just try to limit that. Once they get shots, our [defensemen] are boxing out, our forwards are collapsing to clear pucks.”
It was on the Bulldogs’ fifth and final power play that the game was decided.
After an icing on UMD brought the faceoff into the Bulldogs’ end, Sioux defenseman Derrick LaPoint stepped up to hold the zone, then got the puck to Chris VandeVelde, whose shot was turned away by Bulldogs goaltender Kenny Reiter.
But Gregoire got the rebound and fired a shot home high.
The Sioux’s penalty-killing success was a whole-ice effort, North Dakota goaltender Brad Eidsness said.
And it had to be, considering how strong the Bulldogs’ power play has been this season. Entering Thursday’s game, it had scored a power-play goal in eight straight games, and UMD led the league at 23.5 percent.
“I think we did a really good job disrupting them up ice,” said Eidsness, who stopped all 22 shots he faced. “We didn’t allow them to get set up in our zone a lot, and I think that’s one thing that we’re very good at. We score a goal shorthanded because two guys are down deep breaking up a play and making a play of their own.
“I think it’s frustrating for a power play as well to have it be difficult to come up ice and be set.”
It had to be frustrating for the Bulldogs, who opened the third period with 1:22 of power play time left but didn’t get an official shot on goal — they had a goal waved off because of a high stick.
In five power-play opportunities, UMD got five shots on goal while conceding four and the shorthanded goal.
“We knew that they were going to pressure,” Bulldogs coach Scott Sandelin said. “They look for a lot of offensive chances on their penalty kill. They’re pretty aggressive up the rink. We didn’t come up the rink with a lot of speed. We didn’t get pucks deep.
“You can’t come up the rink half speed. You’ve got to come up with some urgency, with a little more speed, continue to get pucks behind and get support. I didn’t think we did a great job of that most of the night.”
There wasn’t much surprise at the pressure the Sioux brought.
“We knew what they were going to come with and we didn’t respond,” Sandelin said.
With Eidsness turning away everything that came his way and the penalty kill getting the job done, the Sioux had a good formula going Thursday.
“It’s about four guys being on same page and your goaltender making saves,” Sioux coach Dave Hakstol said. “You can make what you want out of it, but that’s really what it comes down to. It’s hard work.”