GRAND FORKS, N.D. — Heading into Friday night, North Dakota had gone 69 consecutive games without a loss (65-0-4) after leading through two periods.
That streak now stands at 70.
Not everything went the Fighting Hawks’ way in an often-sloppy game Friday at the Ralph Engelstad Arena. UND did more than enough, however, to defeat Colorado College 7-1 in Game 1 of the teams’ best-of-three NCHC first-round playoff series.
The Hawks’ power play units served a key role. UND went four-for-six when playing a man up, and that level of efficiency kept down a CC team searching for its own offensive openings.
“It’s nice to see,” UND head coach Brad Berry said of the Hawks’ power-play proficiency Friday, “and this is the time of year where goals are so tough to come by.
“In the postseason, you want to try and squeeze in at least one or two [goals] out of a game on the power play, and that’s going to be important going forward.”
CC began to employ a neutral-zone trap less than five minutes into the game and allowed UND the first 20 shot attempts. The last of those was the first to get past Tigers goaltender Jacob Nehama.
Just 37 seconds after CC’s Matt Hansen went off for a hooking penalty, UND defenseman Tucker Poolman threaded a pass from the high slot to Luke Johnson at the left point. Johnson fired a one-timer over Nehama’s right shoulder to give the Hawks a 1-0 lead 15:27 into the game.
UND doubled its lead 4:21 later. Hawks forward Drake Caggiula kicked the puck to himself just past the CC blue line, barreled toward the end boards and fed Nick Schmaltz at the top of the goalmouth to put away a point-blank chance with 21.4 seconds left before the first intermission.
Some of eighth-seeded CC’s bad habits from earlier this season were reemerging.
“You get through the first 15 minutes almost and it’s 0-0,” Tigers head coach Mike Haviland said, “and (UND) gets their big push like they always do here, and you weather that and get some big saves and (then) you take an offensive-zone penalty and they score on it, and you can’t have that.
“Another thing that’s hurt us all year is we give up a goal in the last minute, and we have upper-classmen on the ice where you expect them to make a play and be strong to get you out of the period (trailing) 1-0, but instead it’s 2-0.”
The teams then traded goals late in the second period. A UND turnover sprang CC center Tanner Ockey for a snap shot from the bottom of the right-hand circle past Hawks goalie Cam Johnson at 15:42.
That goal, coming on a power play, was CC’s lot for the game. The Tigers went 1-for-2 with the man-advantage in a game in which UND outshot CC 34-16.
UND restored its two-goal lead 1:56 after Ockey’s tally. A second Hawks power play goal of the night arrived at 16:36 of the second period when Joel Janatuinen put away his third collegiate goal to bump the score to 3-1.
Four different Hawks scored in Friday’s third period to put Game 1 to bed. Schmaltz picked up his second goal of the night and seventh of the season at 13:35 on a goal Nehama might want back more than the other six.
Schmaltz appeared to run out of real estate on the play and found himself behind the goal line. His lobbed centering pass attempt then hit Nehama’s elbow at the near post before the puck fell into the net.
Nehama finished the game with 27 saves. Johnson posted 15 and was only required to make three stops in the third period.
Top-seeded UND could complete a series sweep against CC on Saturday in Grand Forks. That’s easier said than done, though, against a Tigers squad that took UND to three games in the first round of the 2014 NCHC playoffs and was a tough out for UND in last year’s postseason opening round.
“Getting the first game is very important,” Berry said, “but knowing our history here of playing three games, there’s probably a good chance of doing that.
“We had to make sure to get that first [victory] in order to not play three, so we’ve got to take care of business tomorrow, and we’ll get ourselves ready again.”