Coming into today's game, St. Cloud State had everything to play for, needing to win one of their two games this weekend to be eligible for the NCAA Tournament, and having a good shot of making the field if they were eligible. North Dakota, on the other hand, had already locked up one of the top two overall seeds in the NCAA Tournament and is guaranteed to play a virtual home game next weekend in Fargo.
That difference wasn't apparent in the early stages of the game, but after the Huskies scored twice in the final 30 seconds of the first period to take a 2-1 lead, it became all too clear. North Dakota's offense failed to generate many quality chances, and a desperate St. Cloud State did an excellent job of blocking shots to hang on for a 2-1 victory and advance to tomorrow's NCHC championship game.
After Keaton Thompson gave North Dakota the first score of the game at 15:02, David Morley knotted the game at one off a nice feed from Jonny Brodzinski with 25 seconds remaining in the period. Off the ensuing face-off, Joey Benik brought the puck back in to the North Dakota zone, and after working the puck back to teammate Patrick Russell, the puck landed back on Benik's stick and scored to give St. Cloud a lead they would not relinquish.
St. Cloud State goalie Charlie Lindgren made 19 saves to earn the victory, while Zane McIntyre made 21 saves in the loss. St. Cloud State advances to tomorrow's championship game to meet the winner of Miami/Denver, while North Dakota will face the loser of that game at 3:30 tomorrow afternoon.
Shots on Goal: UND: 6-7-7-20 SCSU: 12-5-7-24
Even strength shot attempts: UND: 12-14-19-47 SCSU: 18-16-9-43
Prime scoring area attempts: UND: 5-1-4-10 SCSU: 12-3-4-19
What do the numbers tell us?
North Dakota is a team that loves to fire off shots from the perimeter and grind out rebound opportunities in front of the net. They did a decent job of getting traffic to the front of the net, but won very few battles in front of the net for pucks. Just 10 shots from the prime scoring area is an incredibly low number and played a big factor in North Dakota only scoring once today.
-I thought North Dakota played an excellent first period, and it looked like they would escape with a 1-0 lead until a pair of defensive breakdowns in the final minute changed a 1-0 North Dakota lead to a 2-1 St. Cloud State lead. With little on the line, North Dakota just wasn't able to force the pushback they needed to make this a game.
-I thought North Dakota did do some good things today. Their forecheck was relentless against a St. Cloud State that had trouble moving the puck out of their zone. There were some very long stretches of play in the St. Cloud State zone, including the stretch that led to North Dakota's one goal.
But they had a tough time converting that pressure into quality offensive chances. The offensive chemistry just seems a little lacking with Mark MacMillan out of the line-up, and what appeared to be some ugly ice conditions did not make for a crisp offensive outing.
-St. Cloud State, meanwhile, did what they had to do today. They never generated the traffic in front of Zane McIntyre that I thought they'd need to, but they took advantage of two North Dakota breakdowns defensively to score twice and made that stand up.
The Huskies finished the game with 16 blocked shots on 48 North Dakota attempts. Blocking one out of every three shot attempts, and not giving up a super high number of attempts is a great formula for winning a playoff hockey game.
-Jonny Brodzinski had a tremendous game. He had a game-high four shots on goal, set up St. Cloud State's first goal, and had a tied-for-game-high four blocked shots. He was a beast on the ice. He played like a guy whose season was on the line and delivered. This game was the perfect encapsulation of how Brodzinski didn't have the raw stats to be a Hobey Baker finalist, but absolutely deserved to be in the conversation as a top-10 player in college hockey.
-Charlie Lindgren did what he needed to do in goal for the Huskies. He didn't face a ton of high-quality chances, but made some game-changing saves in the second period. St. Cloud State got penned in their own zone early in the second period and Lindgren lost his stick in a scuffle in front of the net. Lindgren made a save on a shot from the point and covered up without allowing a rebound to stop play. He also stopped North Dakota's Luke Johnson on a semi-breakaway with 1;56 left in the second period that would have really changed the momentum of the game.
-It's a bit tough to tell from the press box, but ice conditions did not look pretty. There seemed to be a lot of weird bounces and players slowing down to make sure they hadn't lost the puck. Squeegees had to be brought out before the start of the second period, and in the third period, St. Cloud State's Patrick Russell went crashing through a door in the corner on what could have been a very dangerous play.
-As I'm writing, it's been confirmed that St. Cloud State is 100% in the NCAA Tournament with this win. A very impressive feat for a team that played such a tough schedule this year.
15:02 Keaton Thompson from Tucker Poolman and Johnny Simoson 1-0 North Dakota
North Dakota kept the puck deep in the St. Cloud State zone for an extended stretch. Poolman cycled the puck back to Thompson at the left point, and his slap shot through traffic beat Lindgren low to the far post.
19:35 David Morley from Jonny Brodzinski and Ethan Prow 1-1 tie
Brodzinski won a puck in the right corner, skated around the back of the net, and flipped a backhand pass to David Morley who was all alone in front of the net for an easy tap-in goal.
19:54 Joey Benik from Patrick Russell 2-1 St. Cloud State
Benik carried the puck into the North Dakota with a slight edge on two UND defenders. Both defenders went after Benik, forcing him to drop the puck back to Russell, who was trailing the play. Both UND defenders then converged on Russell, who couldn't handle the puck, but was able to work it back to Benik
18:55 Joe Rehkamp from Brooks Bertsch and Jarrod Rabey (empty-net) 3-1 St. Cloud State
Rehkamp won the puck off the boards in his own zone, skated the puck out to center ice and shot the puck into an empty net.