MINNEAPOLIS-Another playoff game, another old-fashioned physical battle between North Dakota and Denver.
Two of their last three meetings have ended in overtime ties, including their last NCHC Frozen Faceoff meeting.
This one seemed headed for overtime again before Austin Poganski had something to say about it, and No. 11 North Dakota is headed for its first Frozen Faceoff title game-and most likely its 14th consecutive NCAA Tournament.
Poganski put away a Colton Poolman shot off the boards two and a half minutes into the third period, giving the Fighting Hawks all the offense they needed in a 1-0 victory over the top-ranked Denver Pioneers in the second Frozen Faceoff semifinal at the Target Center on Friday night.
“That’s a typical NCHC game you saw tonight,” North Dakota head coach Brad Berry said. “We’re fighting for our lives and our guys played like it. It was a great battle in itself and we’re looking forward to tomorrow.”
UND used its trademark suffocating defensive play to offset Denver’s potent offense, blocked 14 shots and handed the Pioneers just their second shutout loss of the season. It was Denver’s first loss overall in 14 games dating back to a 3-2 overtime setback at St. Cloud State on January 20.
“I thought it was a really good college hockey game,” said Denver head coach Jim Montgomery. “They made one more play than we did. It was really tight checking; there wasn’t a whole lot of open ice out there. I thought [North Dakota] played with more desperation and they deserved the victory.”
Denver goaltender Tanner Jaillet, who came into the game with an outstanding 1.84 GAA, stopped 23 of 24 North Dakota shots.
“I thought Tanner Jaillet was outstanding. I thought he was our best player,” Montgomery said.
The Pioneers remained No. 1 in the Pairwise Rankings after the game, and will likely be a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament regardless of their third-place game outcome with Western Michigan. Still, they see it as a way to get back on track.
“We’re gonna get back to practicing with pace and using walls and having great puck support,” Montgomery said.
After a tightly contested, hard-hitting first two periods in which the teams combined for just 28 shots on goal, Poganski’s early third-period goal woke up the green-clad Target Center crowd of 8,168.
“I think [Colton Poolman] was trying to put it on net there,” Poganski said. “I was just driving the net to see if I could get a rebound and it came out to me so I just put it away.”
Denver started forechecking harder and generated more scoring chances as the third period went on, but there was nothing getting past North Dakota goaltender Cam Johnson, who made 21 saves to help his team advance to the championship game.
“We were just playing the right way. We were doing the little things-boxing out and blocking shots,” Johnson said. “I didn’t have to do too much work tonight; my team made it a little bit easier on me. It was a group effort.”
UND had been 0-3 in Frozen Faceoff semifinals before Friday, so this one had to feel pretty special.
“That was obviously our first win at the Target Center in a long time,” Berry said, referring to the inaugural Frozen Faceoff third-place game when UND defeated Western Michigan 5-0 in March 2014 to sneak into that year’s NCAA Tournament.
Friday night’s victory put UND at No. 9 in the Pairwise rankings and likely gave them an NCAA bid regardless of Saturday night’s outcome with Minnesota-Duluth, but that doesn’t mean the Fighting Hawks won’t be dialed in to win their first conference tournament title since the 2012 WCHA Final Five.
“These guys are focused and dialed in. It’s a business trip and these guys played like it tonight,” Berry said.
UMD won all four meetings with North Dakota this season, including two shutout victories.
First period: No scoring.
Second period: No scoring.
UND goal at 2:30-Poganski 13. Assists: Colton Poolman 10 and Tyson Jost 17.
Power plays: UND 0-4, DU 0-3.
Shots on goal: UND 24, DU 21.