Three things: March 4 – Playoff breakdown

Down to the wire
It came down to overtime to decide the host time for one of the playoff matchups. North Dakota held off a St. Cloud State rally Saturday night and earned a tie, then got an extra point in the three-on-three OT with a goal from Rhett Gardner, but that was meaningless in terms of the standings. The single point from the tie got North Dakota the final home ice slot for the first round of the playoffs, and the Fighting Hawks will host Omaha in the first round.

Saturday night, there was the possibility that four teams could end up tied in the final standings: Colorado College, North Dakota, Omaha, and Western Michigan. The night started with CC, North Dakota, and Omaha tied for fourth place, and Western Michigan three points back. The Broncos were playing CC Saturday night, and a CC win could have given the Tigers fourth place and home ice. CC was tied with WMU, 2-2 in the second period before giving up six goals in an eight-minute span losing, 8-2, which lifted the Broncos into a tie with CC in the standings. Omaha could also have earned home ice with a win over Minnesota Duluth, but the Mavericks fell, 4-1. That left North Dakota; if the Fighting Hawks had lost, their would have been a four-way tie, and Omaha would have hosted based on goal differential, Western Michigan would have finished fifth based on wins tiebreaker, and North Dakota would have finished sixth based on aggregate goals on CC. The point earned by North Dakota means that North Dakota hosts Omaha, Western Michigan travels to Minnesota Duluth, and CC will travel up the road to face arch-rival Denver.

Denver fails to hold lead (again)
Denver hosted Miami over the weekend in a series that was meaningless in the standings, and Pioneers played like it. Friday, the Pioneers held a 4-1 lead late in the third before giving up two goals in a 1:38 span to make it 4-3. Adam Plant then scored at 17:37 and Colin Staub added an empty-netter at 19:17 to give Denver a 6-3 win. Saturday, the Pioneers jumped out to a 3-0 lead in the first 4:19 of the game on goals by Jarid Lukosevicius, Ryan Barrow, and Adam Plant. However, Miami got one back late in the first when defenseman Denver defenseman Michael Davies crashed into Denver goalie Tanner Jaillet while trying to break up a two-on-one and inadvertently knocked the puck in the net. Jaillet was shaken up on the play, and took several minutes of being seen to by the trainer before finishing out the period. However, he was replaced at the start of the second by Dayton Rasmussen, which Denver coach Jim Montgomery described as “precautionary. He (Jaillet) wasn’t feeling 100 percent; he was a little bit dizzy. He wasn’t diagnosed with any serious ailment, but we weren’t taking a chance with him with knowing that the playoffs start next weekend.” Miami quickly scored on Rasmussen, with Karch Bachman beating him five-hole 2:47 into the second and then scoring again on a power-play at 11:37. Miami got the extra point in the three-on-three OT on a goal by Phil Knies.

This marked the fourth time this season that Denver either lost or tied a game after being up by three goals. It also happened Nov. 4, 2017, against Western Michigan; Nov. 17, 2017, against North Dakota; and Dec. 16, 2017, against Dartmouth. Denver also had a two-goal lead on Western on Nov. 3 before losing. Of its eight losses and eight ties, Denver had leads in nine of them and couldn’t hold them.

North Dakota continues to struggle
Despite securing home ice for the first round of the playoffs, fans of North Dakota can’t be feeling sanguine about their team right now. Friday night, the Hawks fell to St. Cloud, 4-3 in overtime. North Dakota has not won on a Friday night since Jan. 12 against Bemidji State, which includes six weekends of play. In the second half, North Dakota went 1-6-1 on Friday nights. North Dakota followed that by blowing a two-goal lead in the third period Saturday and settling on a 2-2 tie/three-on-three OT win. North Dakota, which for much of this century was marked by teams that always had strong second halves, has a losing record since January, going 4-7-5, and only going 2-3-4 at home in that stretch. North Dakota also played its first-round opponent, Omaha, four times in the second half, and went 2-2.