GRAND FORKS, N.D. — North Dakota refused to be victimized by the upset bug afflicting the WCHA playoffs.
The Fighting Sioux defeated visiting Minnesota State 2-1 to complete a two-game sweep of the best-of-three series at Ralph Engelstad Arena. The win moves sixth-ranked UND — the defending Broadmoor Cup champions — into the WCHA Final Five March 15-17 at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul.
“Coming into this, we didn’t really talk about anything else,” said UND coach Dave Hakstol. “We wanted a chance to go back to St. Paul and be part of our league’s championship tournament. Now we’ve got four or five days to prepare.”
“It’s do or die for the team,” said UND assistant captain Rylan Kaip. “Everyone’s just playing their hearts out and working as hard as they can.”
Kaip’s goal at 18:28 of the second period stood as the game winner. Sioux junior goalie Philippe Lamoureux stopped 23 of 24 shots he faced and helped hold the Mavericks 0-6 on the power play.
UND improved its record to 21-12-5 and continues to be one of the hottest teams in the nation. The Sioux are 14-2-4 in the second half of the season.
MSU coach Troy Jutting started sophomore goalie Dan Tormey, who replaced Mike Zacharias in Friday’s game after he surrendered five goals. Coupled with a defensive-minded strategy, the switch nearly paid off as Tormey made 25 saves on 27 shots. He also held UND’s high-powered first line of Ryan Duncan, Jonathan Toews and T.J. Oshie to a single power-play goal.
MSU, which ends its season 13-19-6, played UND six times and went 0-5-1 against the Sioux. Mavericks coach Troy Jutting believes UND has the right personnel to go far in the playoffs.
“Any time you have three players up front the caliber of those three kids, and then you throw in the defensemen, you know they’ve got some skill back there,” he said. “Taylor Chorney’s one of the better defensemen in the country, along with Brian Lee.
“Their chances are very good,” he continued. “The lines that don’t score a ton for them are big and strong and do a good job defensively. And they chip in every now and then. That’s the key to success.”
One of Tormey’s biggest saves came off his own mistake with about 1:20 left in the first period and the game tied 0-0. Trying to play the puck behind the net, the MSU goalie gave it away to UND’s Andrew Kozek, who put it out front to Kaip. But before he could get a shot off, Tormey dove to the side of the net and smothered the puck.
All the game’s scoring occurred in the second period. Duncan put UND up 1-0 at 12:45 with a four-on-three power-play goal, his 29th goal of the season. Alone in the right circle, the Sioux forward held the puck, took a good look and then fired a wrister that caught the top corner glove-side.
MSU evened the game at 1 with a goal by junior forward Joel Hanson at the 15:43 mark. Defenseman Brian Kilburg fired a shot from the point after Zach Harrison won the faceoff in UND’s zone. Hanson tipped the shot on the way in. Lamoureux appeared to have the puck stopped, but it trickled through his pads with just enough speed to slide over the goal line.
At 18:28, UND retook the lead by capitalizing on a two-on-two rush. Breaking into the MSU zone, senior forward Erik Fabian feathered a pass to Kaip as he raced down the slot. He gathered the puck and fired a wrist shot that beat Tormey high glove-side to give UND a 2-1 lead it held to game’s end.
“I got a step on the one D-man and Fabian made a heck of a pass over to me,” Kaip said. “I was just trying to get a shot on goal and was fortunate that it went over his glove.”
In the third period, UND’s relentless forechecking limited MSU to seven shots on goal. The Mavericks’ best opportunity to tie the game came late when UND defenseman Joe Finley was called for hooking. But Lamoureux and UND’s penalty killers continued to frustrate the Mavericks, who went 1-13 on the power play for the series.
“We had our chances tonight,” Jutting said. “Lamoureux made a couple of big saves and we missed on a couple of opportunities when we shot it wide. For us to win against this team right now, we had to keep it down to a game like that and we had to get a break or two — and we just didn’t.”
Tormey was pulled for the extra attacker with 1:05 left in the game and a faceoff deep in UND’s zone. Oshie appeared to ice the game for the Sioux with an empty-net goal with 17.2 seconds left, but the play was blown offside. However, it made no difference as UND held on for its first home sweep since Oct. 7, when the Sioux swept Quinnipiac in its opening series of the season.
“It’s been a long time between sweeps here at home in front of our fans,” Hakstol said. “I’m happy we could do that in front of them. They were tremendous this year. It’s nice to be able to repay them a little bit with the last series of the year.”
Although some have said UND is in the NCAA tournament no matter what happens from this point on, Kaip said the players aren’t looking at it that way.
“We’re not even thinking about that, really,” he said. “We’re going one game at a time, and that’s been our philosophy for the last two months. It’s been playoff hockey. You got to win your next game. That’s all that matters.”