GREEN BAY, Wis. — In five postseason games, Denver had outscored its opponents 13-1 in the third period, but on Sunday, North Dakota made sure there would be no magical Pioneers comeback.
The Fighting Sioux used three third-period goals to turn a two-goal game after two periods into what looked like a rout looking at the final score: 6-1 UND.
With Sunday’s win, the Sioux claimed the Midwest Regional title and advance to the Frozen Four in St. Paul. UND takes on Michigan in the semifinals at 7 p.m. CDT on April 7 at the Xcel Energy Center.
“The final score ended up 6-1 but this was a tight, tough battle from the drop of the puck all the way until the of the game,” said UND coach Dave Hakstol. “We built a lead, played a good third period and finished it out.”
Denver played 91 minutes in its double-overtime win against Western Michigan the day before, and by the second intermission, UND’s depth took over and buried a drained Pioneers team.
“We didn’t have a lot of jump or zip in that third period,” said Denver coach George Gwozdecky. “I think you saw some tired legs in the second half of the game. It was as much of a physical tired as it was an emotional tired.”
Added Denver’s Kyle Ostrow: “Double overtime last night probably wore us down a bit. North Dakota wore us down as the game went on.”
The Sioux jumped on the board first 1:59 after Brad Malone took a first-period hooking penalty.
Chay Genoway got the puck ahead to Mario Lamoureux on a short-handed breakout up the right boards. Lamoureux had a two-on-one break but decided to shoot and beat Sam Brittain high to the glove side with one second left on Denver’s power play and 5:23 left in the first period.
But the Pioneers answered just before the period ended on a heads-up play by Jason Zucker with 0.2 seconds on the clock. The WCHA’s rookie of the year had the puck below the goal line, threw it toward the goal and it bounced off UND goaltender Aaron Dell’s left skate and in.
UND extended its lead to two goals at the 7:06 mark of the second period when Evan Trupp scored on his own rebound. The score was 3-1 Sioux at the end of the period after a Brett Hextall power-play goal.
The Sioux (32-8-3) worked the puck around the Pioneers’ zone from Brock Nelson to Genoway and finally to Brett Hextall down low for the low angle one-timer that beat Brittain 53 seconds from the end of the second period.
“Denver is such a good team, so to get those goals that gave us some breathing room was huge for us,” Hextall said. “It took some of the tension off and we were able to stick with the game plan.”
Nelson delivered the knockout punch with 5:17 left in the third period on a backhand shot over Brittain’s left shoulder. The Pioneers pulled Brittain for the extra attacker with 3:46 to go and Malone scored the empty netter 57 seconds later. Jake Marto added another late power-play goal.
Dell made 26 saves for his 30th victory of the season. He made 21 saves in Saturday’s shutout of Rensselaer and was named the regional’s most outstanding player.
“Aaron has been great from the start of the season,” Hakstol said. “He was quietly pretty spectacular at different times in this hockey game.”
Brittain finished with 26 saves for Denver (25-12-5).
Video: North Dakota coach Dave Hakstol:
Video: North Dakota’s Chay Genoway:
Video: Denver coach George Gwozdecky:
Video: Denver’s Kyle Ostrow: