Miska blanks Omaha as Duluth extends NCHC lead
DULUTH — Top-ranked Minnesota Duluth will head into its final bye week of the regular season alone in first in the NCHC.
And if second-place Denver wants to overtake the Bulldogs while they rest, the Pioneers will have to be perfect.
UMD built itself a five-point cushion atop the NCHC standings and extended its unbeaten streak to seven games by defeating unranked Nebraska-Omaha 5-0 in NCHC play Saturday night in front of 7,088 at Amsoil Arena.
The Bulldogs and Pioneers entered the first weekend in February tied atop the league standings with 35 points each, but UMD was able to move ahead this week by five points via Friday's 2-2 tie and shootout win, plus the victory Saturday.
Denver was idle this week, but returns next week to play a home-and-home series with in-state NCHC rival Colorado College. UMD returns to play Feb. 17-18 to face the Tigers in Colorado Springs.
"It's tough with Denver right on us, but that's a huge five points for us this weekend," said UMD sophomore forward Adam Johnson, who was one of four Bulldogs to finish with a goal and an assist Saturday. "Hopefully we can keep that energy we had this game going."
UMD struck first for just the 13th time in 28 games this season, then added a pair of power-play goals in the second and two even-strength goals late in the third.
Freshman goalie Hunter Miska made 27 saves for his fifth shutout of the season, tying the UMD single-season record also held by Kasimir Kaskisuo (2015-16), Alex Stalock (2008-09) and Brant Nicklin (1997-98).
"Hunter made some really sneaky good saves," Bulldogs coach Scott Sandelin said. "It's nice we gave him an opportunity to play with a lead. Hopefully we can continue to do that."
In stark contrast to the Bulldogs and Mavericks previous three meetings, it was UMD who dominated on the power play Saturday while Omaha paid dearly for every penalty it took.
The Bulldogs finished 2-for-4 on the man-advantage, getting a pair of power-play goals from senior wing Alex Iafallo and freshman wing Joey Anderson less than two minutes apart off two separate power plays in the second period, turning a 1-0 game into a 3-0 advantage.
Junior forward Avery Peterson of Grand Rapids, Minnesota, who transferred from Omaha to UMD last December, and sophomore defenseman Neal Pionk of Hermantown added even-strength goals in the third to clinch the win.
"Special teams really got us some momentum, penalty kill and power play," Pionk said. "A lot of credit to Miska and a lot of credit to the coaches. It was good tonight."
The Mavericks entered Saturday's regular-season finale against UMD having gone 7-for-15 on power plays against the Bulldogs. Omaha finished 0-for-4 Saturday in a game that saw both teams awarded eight penalties worth 27 minutes each.
Miska said the key to the success of UMD's penalty kill on Saturday was his teammates being in good spots.
"I thought our guys did a really good job with that and they were allowing me to see the puck," Miska said. "I just made the saves."
Disappointed with how they started Friday in the 2-2 tie, the Bulldogs got off to a better start Saturday by putting two quick shots on the Mavericks' net in the opening minute. It took the Bulldogs 10-plus minutes to register a shot on goal Friday.
Johnson put the Bulldogs up 1-0 at the 12:28 mark of the first while standing just behind the net. The Hibbing, Minnesota, native put the puck in off the back of Omaha goaltender Evan Weninger for his 11th goal this season.
"We didn't have our best night last night, so it was big for us to come out like we did," Johnson said. "We had a great special teams game, which was huge. That was a big reason we won."
Minnesota Duluth.................... 1-2-2—5
First period — 1. UMD, Adam Johnson 11 (Willie Raskob), 12:28. Penalties — Nick Wolff, UMD (slashing), 2:28; Dominic Toninato, UMD (tripping), 17:29; Toninato, UMD (slashing), 19:51.
Second period — 2. UMD, Alex Iafallo 13 (Toninato, Joey Anderson), 6:25 (pp); 3. UMD, Anderson 7 (Johnson, Neal Pionk), 8:01 (pp). Penalties — Joel Messner, UNO (high sticking), 6:11; Jake Randolph, UNO (slashing), 7:50; Ryan Jones, UNO (major and game misconduct for facemasking), 8:42; Sammy Spurrell, UMD (major and game misconduct for facemasking), 8:42; Blake Young, UMD (roughing), 8:42; Ian Brady, UNO (roughing), 8:42; Luc Snuggerud, UNO (high sticking), 18:43.
Third period — 4. UMD, Avery Peterson 5 (Brenden Kotyk, Riley Tufte), 12:50; 5. UMD, Pionk 6 (Iafallo, Toninato), 17:31. Penalties — Riley Tufte, UMD (cross checking), 0:04; Justin Parizek, UNO (cross checking), 0:04; Kyle Osterberg, UMD (tripping), 6:27; Brady, UNO (tripping), 14:36.
Shots on goal — UNO 7-9-11—27; UMD 12-12-11—35. Goalies — Evan Weninger, UNO (35 shots-30 saves); Hunter Miska, UMD (27-27). Power plays — UNO 0-of-4; UMD 2-of-4. Referees — Todd Anderson, Andy Thackaberry. Linesmen — Nick Biondich, Dana Penkivech. Att. — 7,088.