GRAND FORKS, N.D. — North Dakota scored 47 seconds into its third game with Minnesota State, then put goalie Jordan Parise on cruise control to earn a 3-0 win and a trip to the WCHA Final Five.
After a 3-2 overtime loss in the first game of the best-of-3 series, UND needed two wins over MSU or risked seeing its season end. The Sioux did that, snapping the Mavericks’ five-game WCHA winning streak with a 4-1 win Saturday and the 3-0 victory Sunday.
After playing MSU for the fifth time in the season and going 4-1 against the Mavericks, UND coach Dave Hakstol, who picked up his 50th career win, was relieved at the outcome.
“I’ve got a ton of respect for that whole program,” he said. “There hasn’t been a game I can remember that hasn’t been just a nose-to-nose battle. They have good players, and their guys compete extremely hard. You breathe a little bit of a sigh of relief to come out on the good end of this one tonight.”
The Sioux win, combined with Minnesota-Duluth’s playoff victory over Denver, means UND moves up to the third seed in the Final Five and will play Wisconsin on Friday afternoon at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul.
Fighting Sioux junior forward Chris Porter gave UND a quick 1-0 lead in the game’s opening minute when he converted on a 2-on-1 rush with freshman Ryan Duncan. He fired Duncan’s centering pass up the slot past Mavericks goalie Dan Tormey for the game-winner.
But Parise, who notched his sixth shutout of the season and 10th of his career, was the difference in the game. Although the Mavericks outshot the Sioux 32-25, Parise stopped everything MSU threw at him, including 14 shots on eight MSU power plays.
“Obviously, he was the real key throughout the series,” Hakstol said of Parise’s play. “There wasn’t a whole lot of difference in any of the games of the series. Tonight, he was the difference.”
“Our team came out flying, both last night and tonight,” Parise said. “It really made my game a lot easier. I could tell that they were ready. I had to elevate my game just to match theirs.”
Sophomore forward Travis Zajac, a first-round draft choice of the New Jersey Devils, added power-play goals at 7:17 of the first period and 8:28 of the second period to complete UND’s scoring.
“They scored on a couple of opportunities they had and we didn’t. That was the difference tonight,” said MSU coach Troy Jutting. “It ended up 3-0, but I believe it really could have gone the other way with a couple of bounces.”
Last season, Zajac scored six goals during UND’s run to the Frozen Four championship game against Denver. The Winnipeg, Man., native scored four goals in the series against MSU, giving him 15 for the season. With junior forward Drew Stafford, UND’s leading scorer, out with a knee injury, Zajac’s offensive production came at the right time.
“I wanted to carry some of the load,” Zajac said. “A lot of guys carried the load. Our whole line played well this weekend. (Rastislav) Spirko and (T.J.) Oshie both stepped up, along with all the other guys who got into the lineup. They did their part and helped with the win.”
With UND hosting the NCAA West Regional at Ralph Engelstad Arena March 24-25, Hakstol is keeping a close eye on his team’s position in the PairWise Rankings. Playing on home ice in that tournament has been a season-long goal for the Sioux.
“I feel pretty good about our position as far as the NCAA tournament,” he said. “Every game is an opportunity to improve your position. Maybe most importantly, every game is an opportunity to improve your overall team play and to try and continue to build momentum. Hopefully, we haven’t peaked yet as far as our performance.”
As for the Mavericks, who likely played their last game of the season, Jutting credited them for never quitting.
“I’m proud of our kids. We gave what we had tonight,” he said. “I thought two teams — for the third game, third night in a row — I thought there were 40 guys who laid it on the line tonight. I thought that was about as good an effort as you can get from 40 kids in the third night of a series like this.”