Only one team has played within a goal of unbeaten Grand Forks Central this season.
Rival Grand Forks Red River, somewhat surprisingly, lost to the Knights in overtime Jan. 26.
On Friday night in the East Region semifinals, the Knights made that result look more like a fluke than a sign of things to come.
Central looked every bit like the state tournament favorite by receiving scoring from seven different players in a 7-1 win over Red River at Purpur Arena.
The No. 1 Knights (21-0-0) advance to the region championship at 5 p.m. tonight against Fargo Davies.
No. 4 Red River (13-9-0) will play Fargo North in a state-qualifying game at noon.
"I guess our first objective was to qualify (for the state tournament), and we did that," Central coach Grant Paranica said. "Now we want to try to get that No. 1 seed."
Central has now outscored opponents 166-19 and won by at least six goals for the 16th time this year.
Red River actually took the early lead, receiving a goal from Ethan Scheffer at 6:33 of the first. It was Scheffer's first goal of the season after missing a large portion of the schedule with an injury suffered late in last year's playoffs.
"It was nice to get that first goal because we had to come out firing and try to set the tempo," said Red River interim coach John Dvorak, who was at the helm for his second game of the year with former head coach Bill Chase placed on indefinite administrative leave earlier in the week. "If you're on your heels against Central, they take advantage. We shot ourselves in the foot ... in the box way too much."
Central countered with the help of its standout forwards. Lucas Kanta scored on the power play at 7:31 to tie the game at 1-1, then Cole Hanson scored at 11:24 to give the Knights the lead for good.
Parker Stroh, Kyler Briske, Braden Panzer, Hunter Bjorge and Joey Kennelly also scored for the Knights, who outshot Red River 32-15.
Paranica said it wasn't until Panzer's wraparound goal to make it 5-1 early in the third period that his team could feel comfortable about the lead.
"The fifth goal was huge for us with Panzer's individual effort," Paranica said. "It didn't feel like the game was out of hand until that point. We finally felt we had breathing room because Red River was coming hard at us all game, especially in that first period when it was hard to escape the forecheck."
Central scored three power-play goals.
"In practice, the power play hasn't been clicking," Stroh said, "but we came out with confidence and knew we had to take advantage of those opportunities."
The Riders will be looking to bounce back against the Spartans, a team Red River beat 5-0 and 4-3 during the regular season.
"They know it's a tough pill to swallow, but it's a quick turnaround time and it's a one-game playoff," Dvorak said.
Central, meanwhile, is aiming for the No. 1 seed.
"I don't think we really want to change anything and just keep playing like we are," Bjorge said.
GF Central 7,
GF Red River 1
First period-1. RR, Ethan Scheffer (Maxx Andrade) 6:33; 2. GFC, Lucas Kanta (Brandon Holt, Hunter Bjorge) 7:31; 3. GFC, Cole Hanson (Kanta, Kyler Briske) 11:24
Second period-4. GFC, Parker Stroh (William Lawson-Body) 12:27; 5. GFC, Briske (Will Howard, Stroh) 14:43
Third period-6. GFC, Braden Panzer 2:11; 7. GFC, Bjorge (Kanta) 11:46; 8. GFC, Joey Kennelly (Blaize Miller, Will Howard) 12:23
Goalie saves-GFRR: Nate Bradbury 15-7-10 --32; GFC: Aaron Nielsen 2-8-5 --15