GRAND FORKS, N.D. — After seeing two more leads evaporate in the first two periods, North Dakota made sure its third lead stuck Saturday night.
Michael Parks’ second period goal gave UND the lead for good, as North Dakota left nothing to chance and took command for the 4-2 sweep-clinching victory over the Wisconsin Badgers in front of 11,898 at Ralph Engelstad Arena.
UND’s high-flying top line combined for five points in the victory and Brad Eidsness stopped 20 for the victory in just his fifth start of the season.
North Dakota earned its second sweep of the season, jump-starting its playoff hopes to avenge a sweep at the hands of this young Badger team in October.
Simply splitting wasn’t enough.
“We wanted to focus on playing another 60 minutes tonight and we were able to do that,” said UND forward Brock Nelson.
UND once again built two leads early in the game, only to see them erased by timely Wisconsin responses.
Danny Kristo finished off a give-and-go with Nelson at 19:05 of the first period, but ten seconds later, another strange bounce allowed Wisconsin to tie it. Keegan Meuer appeared to trip Andrew MacWilliam while racing towards a puck in the UND zone. The puck bounced off the end boards and right to Meuer, who banged it home for the controversial tying goal.
MacWilliam was visibly frustrated by the non-call, but two minutes into the second, he got his revenge in the form of a goal of his own, blasting it from well behind the blue line and over Joel Rumpel’s (37 saves) shoulder for his second career goal.
“That’s karma,” MacWilliam said. “I just got the puck, and I’ve rimmed it so much so I just said ‘screw it’ and put it on net. Luckily it went in.”
North Dakota coach Dave Hakstol, who spent several minutes arguing with referees Jonathan Morrison and Tom Sterns, agreed with his junior defenseman.
“Maybe things have a way of evening out,” Hakstol said. “I guess that’s all I’ll say.”
Wisconsin briefly tied it midway through the second, with John Ramage feathering a backhand shot past Eidsness at 10:33.
But instead of letting Wisconsin hang around, North Dakota bore down and took a lead it wouldn’t relinquish.
At 15:21 of the second, Michael Parks finished his own chance, cleaning up loose change for the 3-2 lead.
There’d be no answer to that one.
Instead, Nelson tapped in his own rebound at 6:30 of the third to build that lead and UND’s defense clamped down to prevent Wisconsin from having any chance at getting within reach.
“We didn’t make plays in those tough moments, in those moments of truth,” said Wisconsin coach Mike Eaves. “That’s the difference.”
Hakstol was very happy with his team’s ability to dictate the final 20 minutes.
“I thought we played an outstanding third period,” Eaves said. “We kept our foot on the gas, we pushed pucks, we took away time and space, and I don’t think we gave up a grade A opportunity against.”
Eaves added that he had some positives to take out of the weekend despite never being able to grab the lead.
“Coming into this weekend, we knew it was going to be a real good litmus test for us,” he said. “You just have to take a look at the things that happened this weekend, a lot of good things, but not enough good things to get us wins. That’s the final measurement line, but there’s a lot of good things that we did that our team can build on.”
North Dakota, meanwhile, heads into its second off week of the season on a high note.
“We get to sit with this result for two weeks,” said Hakstol. “We get a bye week next week, so we wanted to make sure we put our best effort on the ice this week. I thought we did that.”