GRAND FORKS, N.D. — When Jay Williams went behind his own net to stop the puck, the open goal provided North Dakota with a surge of momentum and a storm that Miami found tough to sled in.
Mark MacMillan capitalized on the opportunity as he stole the puck from the goaltender that led to the first goal for North Dakota (15-9-3, 10-7-0-0 NCHC) and eventually a 3-2 victory over Miami (10-14-3, 4-12-1-1 NCHC) on Friday night in front of 11,231 at Ralph Engelstad Arena.
Michael Parks caught the pass from MacMillan up top and buried the puck into the open net at 12:38 to send UND up first.
“I don’t really know what happened there,” MacMillan said. “Sometimes in hockey, you’ve got to be a little lucky. I think we got a little lucky he left it there and Parks was in front. It was pretty easy to get that one.”
Less than two minutes later, MacMillan showcased his name on the score sheet again as he rushed up the left wing and fired a shot though Williams (six saves) to post the 2-0 advantage over the RedHawks, this time on the power play.
The lapse in goaltending led Ryan McKay (21 saves) to take his place between the pipes.
“You have to do something,” Miami coach Enrico Blasi said. “You can see it was affecting things. You just try and change momentum and stop the bleeding.”
But Miami couldn’t heal its wounds as UND persisted in closing opportunities.
With North Dakota’s 0-for-16 record on the power play in the past three games, specialty teams was a focus the team worked to improve.
“That’s something we’ve been struggling with a little bit lately,” MacMillan said. “But tonight, it was nice to get one and there were some positives there. It’s obviously something we have to work on this time of the year. Specialty teams are a big part of the game and I think the power play is going to be a big part, so we’ve got to keep working on that.”
Something the team hasn’t been struggling with is the chemistry of MacMillan’s line as the junior forward went on to score a second goal when he stopped a Miami attempt to send the puck down the net after a rebound.
The three-goal margin held until Cody Murphy erased the deficit at 9:25 of the second period.
Yet Miami still was unable to capitalize on its chances.
“Obviously, when you spot them two goals, that’s not something you can do on the road,” Blasi said. “But I thought our guys battled hard. Any time you go down 3-0, it’s tough sledding to get back. They did a good job of keeping us to the outside to start and just playing a good, sound game in the third. We’ve got to stop shooting ourselves in the foot. If we can do that, we’re right there. But right now, we’re quite a ways away.”
A spark of hope with a goal from Sean Kuraly past Clarke Saunders (31 saves) with less than a minute to go in the final frame set the teams apart by one, but the final buzzer signaled a North Dakota victory.
“You never want to give up a goal with 29 seconds to go,” UND coach Dave Hakstol said. “That puts you back on your heels. But overall, we played a good, solid period. Those are areas the team is developing in … a lot of positives tonight.”
With the loss, the RedHawks fell to last place in NCHC conference standings, celebrating just one victory in its past 10 games.
But the heavy weight against the winning column isn’t something Miami can look at.
“We don’t have a choice right now,” Blasi said. “We have to stay positive and we have to continue to try and get better. I thought we did get better tonight, so we’ll go at it again tomorrow.”
North Dakota jumped to share the No. 2 spot with Nebraska-Omaha and a single win to separate it from first-place St. Cloud State.
“I think our team was good tonight,” MacMillan said. “Obviously, all four lines did a good job and I think we had a lot of in-zone time. That’s the type of hockey we’ve got to play to be successful, especially this time of the year. That’s good, hard North Dakota hockey, getting low and grinding the defensemen and I think all four lines did a good job tonight.”