DENVER — In another marquee matchup that lived up to the hype, the No.1 Minnesota-Duluth Bulldogs beat the No. 2 Denver Pioneers behind a 38-save effort from goaltender Hunter Miska, an outstanding penalty kill, and two-point nights from forward Kyle Osterberg and defenseman Neal Pionk.
“Two good teams; last night was a good hockey game too, and they had the second period there where we made mistakes and couldn’t catch up, and tonight we got the lead and held it,” said Bulldogs coach Scott Sandelin. “I thought Hunter played good. I thought we grinded it out, and that’s what happens sometimes when two teams go. It’s hard hockey.”
Much like Friday night’s game, the Bulldogs scored first off a neutral zone turnover. Denver defenseman Will Butcher couldn’t corral a bouncing puck at the red line and Pionk picked it up instead and sent a pass off the right-side boards to Osterberg near the Denver blue line. Osterberg raced in and beat Denver goalie Tanner Jaillet five-hole with a snap shot from the top of the right circle at 4:01 of the first.
Unlike in Friday’s game, Minnesota-Duluth weathered early pressure from Denver in the second period, including an outstanding power-play chance where Denver did everything but score. That failure to tie the game proved costly as just after the penalty ended, Sammy Spurrell carried the puck deep and got a shot off from the slot. Jaillet made the save, but the rebound came to his left, and Billy Exell was there to poke it home past Jaillet’s outstretched left leg at 10:05.
“We had some good blocks, Hunter made some good saves, and last night I thought our PK was good and except for the fact that we kept giving them power plays and they’re good enough that eventually they’re going to score, those are the moments that will give your team a boost,” said Sandelin.
“The game kind of reminded me of our Frozen Four game (against North Dakota) where our power play couldn’t generate enough,” said Denver coach Jim Montgomery. “You need your best players. Last night our best players were our best players and we won, and tonight that didn’t happen.”
At the other end, Hunter Miska was exceptional in the Bulldogs end, coming up big as Denver increased the shot count. However, late in the period, Logan O’Connor carried the puck along the right-side boards and circled behind Miska and tried for a wraparound. Miska made the stop, but the rebound came to Evan Janssen right outside the crease, and no Bulldogs defenseman picked him up before Janssen poked it into the open net at 13:11.
“I really liked the way we played the entire weekend,” said Montgomery. “It’s the NCHC, you can’t afford for your power play to be unsuccessful. I don’t know what we were, 0-for-4, 0-for-5 tonight, but I know it was abysmal. We outshot them. I think puck possession-wise, we had a lot of time and we didn’t get to dirty areas and they capitalized on their opportunities.”
In the third, Miska withstood a barrage of shots as Denver poured on the offense trying to get the tying goal, firing 14 shots, but Miska stopped everything, and Joey Anderson added an empty-net goal at 19:01 of the third to seal the win and a split.
“They’re a good team, and they’re going to generate quality chances,” said Sandelin. “I thought he (Hunter) was seeing the puck well. That’s how he’s played for us all year. He’s had some really strong games, and I thought he was huge for us tonight making some key saves.”
The win also ended Denver’s 15-game unbeaten streak.
“I’ve told our players all along that I’ve been amazed at their focus and intensity and willingness to be selfless,” said Montgomery. “We have to have a good break here like we did last year. Last year, we were embarrassed and came back hungry after losing four in a row, and we went on a great run.”
Miami 3, Colorado College 2 (OT)
The RedHawks rallied from a two-goal deficit in the third period and defeated Colorado College in overtime on a goal by Josh Melnick at 1:34 of the extra session. Melnick picked up a rebound from the goalie’s right and poked it five-hole to give the RedHawks their first win since Oct. 28. CC took a two-goal lead into the third period after Mason Bergh scored at 10:25 of the second, but Willie Knierim started Miami’s rally by scoring at 10:02, and Kiefer Sherwood scored an extra-attacker goal at 13:46 of the third to tie it. Alex Leclerc made 30 saves in the loss.
No. 17 St. Cloud State 4, No. 20 Omaha 2
Niklas Nevalainen and Jack Ahcan scored with a man advantage in a 29-second span in the first two minutes of the game and Jeff Smith made 22 saves as St. Cloud State earned a split with Omaha with a 4-2 win at home. The Nevalainen goal came on a delayed penalty when Nick Poehling got the puck in the right circle and spied Nevalainen streaking down toward the left post and fed him a perfect pass that he tapped into the open net. On the ensuing power play, Ahcan struck on a shot from the blue line, firing a bouncing puck in. Judd Peterson scored the game-winner at 5:10 of the second period, just after Ryan Papa had hit a crossbar. Papa then got the puck low and sent it through the crease to Peterson, who scored past the outstretched leg of Evan Weninger, who made 32 saves.
No. 18 Western Michigan 3, at No. 8 North Dakota 1
Wade Allison scored two goals, including the game-winning goal at 12:38 of the third period to break a 1-1 deadlock, as Western Michigan earned a road split with North Dakota. Allison’s game-winner came off a great cycle by the Broncos in the offensive zone and some tic-tac-toe passing, as Corey Schueneman got the puck at the right point, sent a pass to Hugh McGing in the left circle, and McGing found Allison in the right circle, who had an open net to shoot at high. Western Michigan’s penalty kill was outstanding, killing back-to-back five-minute majors that started in the second and carried over into the third. Right before Allison’s game-winner, the Broncos also killed a power play. North Dakota also had a power play late in the third, but couldn’t convert, and Michael Rebry added an empty-netter to seal the win. Ben Blacker made 32 saves in the win.