GRAND FORKS, N.D. — Minnesota State couldn’t get its comeback magic working as North Dakota’s 5-2 victory enabled the Fighting Sioux to remain unbeaten in five games (4-0-1) against the Mavericks this season.
“We’ve come back three or four times this year from three goals,” said MSU forward Mick Berge. “We did it to these guys earlier in the season. We can’t let ourselves get to that point any more.
“It’s playoff hockey,” he added. “You have to come out a play a full 60-minute game. We didn’t do that tonight and they did.”
With the Sioux getting a goal from each member of their top line of sophomores T.J. Oshie, Jonathan Toews and Ryan Duncan, MSU coach Troy Jutting summed up the game by saying, “You need your best players to play great. I thought theirs did. I didn’t think ours did.”
UND took the first game of the best-of-three WCHA playoff series at Ralph Engelstad Arena in convincing fashion. After the Sioux built a two-goal lead in the first period, MSU made it a 2-1 game with a power-play goal by senior forward Kurtis Kisio just 1:09 into the second period.
But 47 seconds later, the Sioux responded with two goals 30 seconds apart by forwards Duncan and Erik Fabian to take a 4-1 lead. The blow proved fatal. Although each team scored again in the period, Duncan’s 28th goal of the season stood as the game-winner.
“The most important part of the game was to get those goals immediately to swing momentum back in our direction,” UND coach Dave Hakstol said. “It was key at that time of the game.”
Oshie got the Sioux on the board at 9:05 of the first period, cashing in on a five-on-three power play.
“They’re too good a hockey team to put on a five-on-three,” Jutting observed.
Toews got off a shot that bounced through traffic before hitting Oshie, who was camped out alone at the left side of the goal. When the puck fell at his feet, he calmly tapped it in to an open net.
The Sioux went up 2-0 with 1:57 remaining in the first period. MSU goalie Mike Zacharias blocked Kyle Radke’s wraparound attempt, but the rebound went directly up the slot where Radke got his stick on the puck again. The converted defenseman waited for the goalie to go down and then cooly flipped in a backhander.
Asked if having a week off before the series at UND was a factor in MSU’s first-period performance, Jutting replied, “I thought in the first period, we were a little rusty, just a step slow. I thought it got better as the game went along.”
Junior goalie Philippe Lamoureux preserved UND’s two-goal lead when he robbed Berge with about 20 seconds left in the first period. He went in alone on Lamoureux, who stopped the initial shot and then made a diving save to keep the puck out of the open net.
Just over a minute into the second period, Kisio one-timed a cross-ice pass from freshman forward Kael Mouillierat to cut UND’s lead to one goal. Forty seconds later, MSU forward Trevor Bruess went to the box for hooking and seven seconds after that, Duncan’s power-play goal put UND ahead 3-1.
Sioux sophomore defenseman Taylor Chorney threaded a pass from the left point to Duncan, who was alone in the right circle. His quick wrister beat Zacharias high.
“Chorney made a tremendous pass,” Duncan said. “I didn’t look, really. I just tried to shoot it upstairs. The goalie went down, and I was fortunate enough to catch the top of the net.”
A half minute after the center-ice faceoff, Fabian pounded in linemate Andrew Kozek’s centering pass to make it a 4-1 game.
The Sioux weren’t done yet. At the 9:07 mark, a short touch pass from Oshie sent Toews flying into the MSU zone. He blew past a defender and cut in on Zacharias to fire a point-blank shot past the goalie that gave UND a commanding 5-1 lead.
“I was kind of waiting for trailers there,” Toews said. “I figured I had the lane to the net, so I just tried to protect the puck and get a shot off. It hit the post and went in.”
At that point, Jutting called timeout and replaced Zacharias with sophomore goalie Dan Tormey. After Zacharias gave up five goals on 20 shots, Tormey was perfect for the remainder of the game, stopping all 18 shots he faced.
MSU scored the last goal of a wild second period at 16:22. Berge and sophomore forward Jon Kalinski took turns with UND’s defense whacking at a rolling, bouncing puck before Berge got his stick on it and shot it past Lamoureux.
The last time MSU played at UND on Feb. 10, the Mavericks came back from a three-goal deficit to earn a tie. This time, the Sioux played solid defense for the remainder of the game to maintain the lead. Jutting said it was important that MSU never gave up after falling behind.
“You just worry about playing hard,” he said. “I thought we competed.”
UND continued to generate quality scoring chances in the third period, but Tormey made several big saves that prevented the Sioux from extending their 5-2 lead. Lamoureux was just as solid on the other end, stopping 29 of the 31 shots he faced.
“We were able to close it out,” Hakstol said. “At the end of the day, it’s one win. It’s over and done and we move on to tomorrow.”
With 1:14 left in the game, Bruess plowed into Lamoureux in the crease, knocking him down with a crosscheck. The Sioux goalie remained down on the ice for a few minutes as UND’s trainer checked him out. However, he finished the game with no apparent trouble.
Bruess received a five-minute major for charging and was ejected with a game misconduct. Hakstol said after the game that he had not spoken to Lamoureux, but assumed that he wasn’t injured in the collision.
Toews attributed UND’s success during the second half of the season to offensive contributions from more than just the team’s top line.
“I think all four lines are playing great right now,” he said. “We have been in the past 10 or 15 games since Christmas. We just need to keep rolling the lines like that. When everyone’s playing great, that’s when our team’s successful.”
Berge said that MSU can’t afford a slow start for the second game of the series.
“We can’t let a team like that get up a couple goals on us early. We’ve come back a few times this year, but we can’t do that to ourselves,” he said. “It puts us down. The momentum’s on their side.”
UND and MSU meet for the second game of the series at 7:07 p.m. Saturday in Engelstad Arena.