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UND loses two-goal lead, falls in Omaha

Colton Poolman doesn't closely track the Pairwise Rankings, but he knows what the UND men's hockey team needs to do.

"We just have to win games at this point," the sophomore defenseman said. "That's the most important thing. (The Pairwise Rankings) are always in the back of your head, but the most important thing is winning games right now."

That's what made Friday night's 6-3 loss to Omaha in Baxter Arena so deflating.

UND held a pair of two goal leads, but gave up three consecutive power-play goals in the second period, an even-strength go-ahead goal and a pair of empty-netters in the third in what could be a costly loss for the Fighting Hawks.

They dropped to No. 15 in the Pairwise Rankings. Anything lower than that come Selection Sunday on March 18th and UND would be guaranteed to miss the 16-team NCAA tournament field for the first time since 2002.

The Fighting Hawks (13-10-8 overall, 7-8-4 National Collegiate Hockey Conference) also dropped into a fourth-place tie with Minnesota Duluth for the final spot of home ice in the first round of league playoffs.

Sixth-place Omaha is three points back and will look for its first-ever series victory against UND at 7:07 p.m. tonight.

Although UND entered the weekend a perfect 4-0 all-time in the three-year-old Baxter Arena, it met the same fate that so many Omaha opponents have faced this year in the building.

The Mavericks (15-13-1, 8-11 NCHC) won their seventh-straight home game. In those games, they've scored: 5, 5, 11, 4, 6, 7 and 6 goals.

For the season, they've averaged 4.93 goals per game at home and are converting at 32.9 percent on the power play. Both are the best marks in the nation and both were factors Friday.

The Fighting Hawks, meanwhile, continued to be inconsistent. They're now 1-4-3 in the last eight games.

They outshot Omaha 41-26 and received goals from Jordan Kawaguchi, Matt Kiersted and Shane Gersich, but it wasn't enough.

"I think we played well enough to win, but they scored more than us," Kawaguchi said. "Credit to them. They're a good team. We have to find a way to get the job done.

"Obviously, it's a little frustrating. But we have to stick together as a team. We're confident we'll be able to come back and get the win."

UND had a great start to Friday's game, building a 2-0 lead in the first period.

Kawaguchi buried the first goal when he swatted the puck off of Omaha defenseman Grant Gallo's stick and in the net during a breakout to snap a 22-game goal drought at 11:11.

Then, the Fighting Hawks converted on the power play at 16:54, when Kiersted fired a shot through a Trevor Olson screen.

But things unraveled in the second period when the Mavericks converted all three power-play chances.

Just nine seconds into their first power play, Tyler Vesel fired a shot through a Fredrik Olofsson screen to make it 2-1.

Although UND regained a two-goal lead when Gerisch tipped a Colton Poolman point shot at 5:58, the Mavericks had quick answers.

Teemu Pulkkinen re-directed a Zach Jordan shot-pass on the power play at 8:32. Hayden Shaw inadvertently slid into a rebound of a power-play point shot and put it by goalie Peter Thome (20 saves) at 15:08. And Ryan Galt buried a Martin Sundberg rebound at 16:51, an even-strength goal that put the Mavs ahead for good.

"We got a little extended on a couple of them," UND coach Brad Berry said of the penalty kill. "We gave up a couple of shots where they had pretty good net-front. One went off of us. We're going to look at it again, make some adjustments, try to tighten it up that way and come back with the effort that we had in the first part of the game.

"We had a 2-0 lead, a 3-1 lead and had the momentum in our hands. We gave them some opportunities on the power play. Coming in, they were 30 percent at home. They showed why. They scored three goals on the power play and that was the difference in the game."

Berry said the team will check the status of injured forward Nick Jones, who made the trip, on Friday night and Saturday morning.

"If there's any chance of him coming in the lineup, we'll put him in," Berry said.

And after Friday's loss, the importance of winning the series finale has increased.

"It's tough to lose a game," Berry said. "One thing is that if you're playing the right way, competing hard every shift—which our guys are—hopefully you can try to get a result. It seems like right now, each game it's something a little different that's faltering. Our PK has been great all year. A couple times tonight, it faltered."

Notes: Former UND football coach and athletic director Roger Thomas attended the game. . UND played without Jones for a fifth-straight game. The Fighting Hawks also played without defenseman Gabe Bast, who did not make the trip. UND scratched forward Collin Adams and Ludvig Hoff missed a third-straight game. Hoff is at the 2018 Olympic Games in South Korea playing for his native Norway. . . UND's Christian Wolanin and Joel Janatuinen played in their 100th-career games.

Brad Elliott Schlossman

Schlossman is in his 13th year covering college hockey for the Herald. In 2016 and 2018, he was named the top beat writer in the country by the Associated Press Sports Editors. He also was the NCHC's inaugural Media Excellence Award winner in 2018. Schlossman has voted in the national college hockey poll since 2007 and has served as a member of the Hobey Baker and Patty Kazmaier Award committees.

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