Heading into the regular season's final stretch of games, St. Cloud needed to earn a series sweep somewhere along the way in order to have a chance at earning an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament. That was exactly what they got this weekend when a dominating defensive performance led the Huskies to a 2-0 victory over Nebraska-Omaha to earn a series sweep over the Mavericks.
The first half of the game was a quiet, defensive struggle with neither team generating much in the way of quality offensive chances. Nathan Widman broke open the scoring with a wrist shot that appeared harmless, but bounced off the glove of Omaha goalie Ryan Massa and into the net.
That 1-0 lead would hold until the latter stages of the third period when Jimmy Murray tapped in a goal on a 2-on-1 to add an insurance goal for the Huskies. St. Cloud State goalie Charlie Lindgren made 21 saves, none of which were particularly difficult, to earn his second shutout of the season.
The win moves St. Cloud to 15-14-1 overall on the season, giving them a winning record for the first time since October 31st, when they held a 3-2-0 overall record. Nebraska-Omaha falls to 17-10-3 with the loss.
The Mavericks will return to Minnesota next weekend when they take on Minnesota Duluth, while St. Cloud State heads on the road to face NCHC leaders North Dakota.
Shots on Goal: SCSU: 9-16- 7-32 UNO: 9-5-7-21
Even strength shot attempts: SCSU: 7-20-10-37-48.7% UNO: 9-10-20-39-51.3%
Prime Scoring Area Attempts: SCSU: 6- 12-6-24 UNO: 2-5-4-11
What do the numbers tell us?
There was just not much going on in this game. The shot attempt totals were extremely low, especially in that first period. Omaha had some pushback in the third period that tilted the SAT% numbers in their favor while St. Cloud State tried to protect their lead, but they did very little offensively all night. That's especially evidenced by the fact that they couldn't anything going in the prime scoring area. All of their shots on goal in the third period were from well outside on the perimeter, and there was rarely much traffic in front of Lindgren. UNO's shot chart looks like a goalie's dream.
-St. Cloud State did most of their moving up in the Pairwise last night. Tonight's win keeps them at 14th overall in the Pairwise, but their position inside the tournament bubble becomes so much stronger with each win. They're still going to have to go on the road in the playoffs, which will be tough,
-Last night, I said Omaha looked like a good team that just had an off night, as things weren't quite clicking. Tonight, they looked downright terrible. There was very little offensive push on a night where they really needed a victory if they were going to make any sort of attempt at a league title. Now, they go from trying to keep pace with the league leaders this weekend, to battling Minnesota Duluth for one of the final home ice playoff spots.
They're still in fine position for an NCAA tournament bid because losses in the NCHC don't hurt all that much in the computer polls. They basically just need to not completely fall apart against Colorado College on the last weekend of the regular season to get in. But they're a .500 hockey team in the 2015 calendar year right now, and haven't looked like the top-five team they did in the first half.
Maybe their young team has hit a wall. Maybe the questions we had about the sustainability of their first half success have come home to roost. Either way, the Mavericks looked like the NCHC team you'd want to draw in the playoffs tonight.
-Even before they combined to score the second goal, I made written in my notes how good the line of Dan Tedesco-Kalle Kossila-Jimmy Murray was for St. Cloud State tonight. They were the only line on either squad that was generating much tonight, and they finally got rewarded for it late in the game.
There's been a night-and-day difference in Kossila's play between the first half of the season and this past weekend. Health likely plays a huge factor in that. With Jonny Brodzinski moving to center and anchoring the top line, having a healthy Kossila that can be productive on the second line makes St. Cloud State so much more dangerous because they're not a one-line team anymore.
-Gigantic St. Cloud State sophomore Ben Storm continues to impress since moving to forward a few weeks ago. The move was suggested by the Los Angeles Kings, who drafted Storm, if nothing else as a way to just get him into the line-up on a more regular basis. He doesn't look bad up front either. The big man has some surprising puck-handling skills for a 6-7 player. He'll need to learn to use his 230 lbs more often and more effectively, but this looks like a move that stick long-term.
10:46 Nathan Widman from Joe Rehkamp and Tim Daly 1-0 St. Cloud State
Widman skated the puck into the zone on a 3-on-2 rush. He fired a harmless looking wrist shot from about five feet past the top of the circles and Massa mis-judged a glove attempt. The puck hit the top of his catching mitt and went into the net.
13:18 Jimmy Murray from Kalle Kossila and Ethan Prow 2-0 St. Cloud State
Kossila forced a turnover at the UNO blueline after Prow had flicked the puck high into the air. Kossila came in on a two-on-one, made a fake to draw Massa to him, then fed the puck over to Murray who tapped it into the open net.