St. Cloud State came into tonight's game needing a victory to stay even with North Dakota at the top of the NCHC standings heading into the final weekend of the regular season next week. The Huskies turned in a superb defensive performance to earn a 3-1 victory over North Dakota and keep their NCHC title hopes alive.
It was North Dakota that got on the board first when Rocco Grimaldi stole the puck at the St. Cloud blue line during a Husky power play, and raced in alone on St. Cloud goalie Ryan Faragher. Grimaldi put back his own rebound to give North Dakota a 1-0 lead. But St. Cloud had an answer. As that same St. Cloud power play was expiring, Joey Benik answered back with a goal to knot the game at one apiece.
That score remained the same for much of the second period until St. Cloud's Cory Thorson, on his Senior Night, made a pretty play to cut across the slot on a 1-on-1 with a North Dakota defender and fire a high wrist shot over North Dakota goalie Zane Gothberg.
Once they established a lead, the smothering St. Cloud defense denied North Dakota any quality opportunities to even the score. North Dakota managed only 9 shots on goal in the final frame, most from the perimeter, and with 8 seconds remaining, Kevin Gravel, another St. Cloud senior, iced the game with an empty-net goal.
With the head-to-head match-up between the two teams solving nothing, the first ever NCHC title will be decided next weekend when North Dakota hosts Western Michigan, while St. Cloud travels to Colorado College. If the two teams remain tied, they will both be named co-champions, though North Dakota would win the tiebreaker for the number one seed in the playoffs, with more league wins, despite St. Cloud winning the season series three games to one against North Dakota.
14:17 Rocco Grimaldi unassisted (shorthanded) 1-0 North Dakota
Grimaldi forced a turnover at the St. Cloud blueline and skated in on a breakaway. He tried to beat Faragher to the five hole, but Faragher closed the door. The rebound came right back to Grimaldi though, and Grimaldi was able to easily put the rebound into the net.
15:44 Joey Benik from Kalle Kossila and Jonny Brodzinski1-1 tie
Four seconds after the power play from the Grimaldi goal expired, Benik took a feed from across the crease by Kossila and was able to one-time the puck off the post and past Gothberg for the goal.
18:55- Cory Thorson from Tim Daly 2-1 St. Cloud
Thorson brought the puck down the right wing 1-on-1 against a North Dakota defender. Thorson cut towards the middle of the ice and fired a high wrist shot across the body of Gothberg and over his glove for the goal.
19:52 Kevin Gravel (empty net) 3-1 St. Cloud
After St. Cloud hit a post with the North Dakota goalie pulled, Gravel iced the game with an empty-netter from the neutral zone.
-There was definitely a fun, playoff atmosphere at the National Hockey Center tonight. The crowd wasn't quite as big as last night's crowd reportedly was, but by the second period, the building was pretty close to capacity and it was loud all night. There was quite a large North Dakota contingent in the building, though after Rocco Grimaldi's goal, they were pretty quiet the rest of the night. I know I'm beating a horse on realignment that died long ago, but these games are just so much better when opposing fans can travel to them.
-That was an incredible defensive performance by St. Cloud. North Dakota could not get an opportunity inside the perimeter to save their life tonight. Ryan Faragher made 33 saves tonight, but was the game's third star, in part because that was one of the easier 33 save performance you're going to see.
The shot chart really tells the story on this one. North Dakota attempted 51 shots in the final two periods of play. If you draw a box from the goal line to the face-off dot to the other face-off dot to the other goal line, only six of North Dakota's 51 shot attempts came inside that box, including only two in the final period(and one didn't come until 43 seconds left).
Maybe you chalk that up to St. Cloud having to win, versus North Dakota wanting to win tonight, but no matter what, that's a very impressive, very dominating defensive performance.
-A lot of credit for that goes to St. Cloud's defensemen who, in their second game without top D Andrew Prochno, gave a much better performance than they did on Saturday night. The Huskies dressed little-used senior Brandon Burrell for Senior Night, though Burrell rarely saw the ice, including not playing at all in the third period. The Huskies basically ran Kevin Gravel and Tim Daly as one pairing, and Ethan Prow and Niklas Nevalainen or Ben Storm alternating as the other pairing.
Prow in particular, rebounded from going a -3 last night in that dreadful second period for St. Cloud to play a fantastic game, and show that he has a lot of potential to become a real star, the same way Andrew Prochno and Nick Jensen did before him.
- What an individual effort by Cory Thorson on the game-winning goal. The play began when St. Cloud's Tim Daly blocked a shot and created a transition opportunity. It actually looked like the Huskies would miss out on a quality scoring opportunity as Daly had a chance to join Thorson in transition and turn a 1-on-1 into a 2-on-1, but Daly chose to hang back, and Thorson showed his strength to cut across the slot and beat Gothberg with high shot.
-Thorson's goal was kind of emblematic of how the game went tonight. St. Cloud generated way more offense from their bottom two lines tonight than North Dakota did, and eventually, that caught up to UND and was the difference for St. Cloud.
-Speaking of Zane Gothberg, I thought he played exceptionally well just to keep North Dakota in the game. There was a lot more work in his 29 saves tonight than in Faragher's 33.
-The loss tonight snaps a five-game winning streak for North Dakota. My thoughts haven't changed all that much since the start of the season on North Dakota. Put this team up against a handful of North Dakota teams in the past decade, and I don't think they match up very well, but it's hard to come up with too many current NCAA teams I'd favor over them. I don't think they're quite in the same class as a Boston College or Minnesota, but the only way they'd meet those guys is in a one-and-done situation, where those differences aren't going to mean much. Tonight showed that they still lack a real Grade-A offensive threat outside of maybe Grimaldi, but they've got a great defense and have also showed in the second half of the season that when they get some confidence and really get rolling, they're very tough to beat.