UND's special teams falter again in Duluth as Bulldogs win 5-2
It was a new night.
UND shifted the lineup for the 26th time in 26 games and broke out the new black jerseys, hoping things would change.
But none of it worked.
It was the same old story.
UND was still unable to kill penalties and it still was unable to beat Minnesota Duluth.
The Bulldogs scored three times on the power play—six times on the weekend—as they finished off a two-game sweep with a 5-2 win Saturday night in AmsOil Arena.
It marked the eighth-straight loss to the Bulldogs—a streak that dates back to the 2016 National Collegiate Hockey Conference playoffs.
It is UND's fifth-longest stretch of futility against a single opponent all time and the longest since UND lost nine in a row to Wisconsin in the late 1980s.
The good news?
UND doesn't play Minnesota Duluth again in the regular season. The Bulldogs don't come to Grand Forks this year.
The bad news?
The latest loss dropped the Fighting Hawks (12-8-6 overall, 6-6-2 National Collegiate Hockey Conference) to No. 13 in the Pairwise Rankings, which would put UND on the bubble of making the NCAA tournament for a 16th straight season.
UND also is now just one spot above Minnesota Duluth in the NCHC standings for fourth place—the last spot for home-ice advantage for the first round of the league playoffs.
The Fighting Hawks took a 2-0 lead early in the game on back-to-back goals by Shane Gersich and Austin Poganski, but things unraveled in the second period when UND gave Minnesota Duluth five power plays.
Defenseman Scott Perunovich scored twice, while forward Joey Anderson finished with four assists.
UND coach Brad Berry said the key for his team is "staying together. I think that's the first thing that comes to mind. Not in our program, but people outside of the program are going to say this team isn't playing very well right now or a few other things. It's one of those things where we're going through a tough time right now. We never, ever hang excuses on it. We just know we have to get better. We have to make sure this group stays together and we will.
"We've been through adversity before, little bumps in the road, and this is one of them. We have to get through it."
The other key is fixing the penalty kill.
On Nov. 15, UND had the nation's No. 2-ranked penalty kill at 95.8 percent. Since that day, UND's penalty kill ranks No. 59 of 60 teams in the nation (.695), only ahead of Michigan (.679).
This weekend, the Bulldogs went 6-for-11 on the power play—and that doesn't include Peter Krieger's goal Friday that came just seconds after a power play expired.
"Our PK has won us games throughout the year," UND junior Nick Jones said. "This weekend, it let us down. It's disappointing. We have to go back to the drawing board with it. It's the little things with that. Our structure is fine. It's the little things and details here and there. We're going to get back to it and get ready to go."
In UND's last four losses, its opponents have gone a combined 9-for-17 (52.9 percent) on the power play.
"One thing is getting in shooting lanes," Berry said. "When you have skilled players like that, you have to make it tougher on them to get pucks to the net—getting in shooting lanes is one thing, make them make two or three passes. I know on our power play, it's tough to get pucks to the net. We need to make sure we get back to what we do on the kill."
And that has to happen quickly.
Defending national champion Denver comes to The Ralph next weekend and the Pioneers have the fifth-best power play in the country.
"On our side of things, we have to be more sharp on the details—sticks in lanes, knocking down passes," Poganski said. "When we look back on film, we'll see the little things we could have done better and I think we'll see we could have saved a few goals and could have had a different turnout to the game tonight."
Poganski, the captain, said he's confident the team won't unravel because of this weekend.
"I don't think that's going to be a huge concern for our team," he said. "We're a pretty close-knit team. We battle for each other. We'll do anything for each other. I think we've just got to keep putting our nose to the grindstone and keep working hard."
Notes: UND played its third-straight game without injured first-line center Rhett Gardner (lower body), while goaltender Peter Thome (undisclosed) missed his second game with an injury, Gabe Bast was out with injury and Zach Yon was out with an illness. . . Minnesota Duluth made one lineup change, going with Nick Swaney for Avery Peterson, who took four penalties Friday.