If Friday's game was any indication, North Dakota's Brock Nelson is not a player who gives up. It remains to seen if Minnesota does the same because their season may depend on it.
Nelson, who was stopped on three earlier chances, scored his sixteenth goal with 3:35 remaining in the game to give UND a 2-1 lead. That was all they needed as the 17th-ranked team handed the Gophers their third straight loss in Grand Forks behind goals from Andrew MacWilliam, Nelson and 25 saves from UND goalie Aaron Dell.
Both teams started the game with an extra jump in their game and it showed. Minnesota missed the net on both a 4x2 and 3x1 odd-man rush while North Dakota shot wide on a 2x1. The teams were eventually able to calm down and challenge the goalies with the two best chances coming from UND junior Danny Kristo.
Kristo also had the worst play of the first period when Kristo checked Gopher Ben Marshall from behind into the boards. He was ejected, throwing sticks and making sure the refs knew his two cents as he left the ice, while Minnesota had an opportunity with a five minute power play. For the second straight week, however, they were unable to generate any offense and the two best opportunities with the man advantage were Brock Nelson on a breakaway and an ensuing wraparound which Minnesota goalie Kent Patterson saved en route to 23 saves.
North Dakota had other chances to get past Patterson but it was Kyle Rau who scored first for the Gophers. Rau's thirteenth goal of the season came 6:29 into the second period after a shot by Zach Budish rebounded off of Dell and right onto his stick. Minnesota played one of their better second periods Friday and came close to leaving the second up by one, but a turnover by Nick Bjugstad in the closing moments led to Andrew MacWilliam tying the game with nine seconds left.
That was all North Dakota needed to regain control. Although Minnesota forced Dell to make a couple good saves, the Gophers were not able to move the puck against North Dakota's blue line. Even with the man advantage, UND was able to get more scoring chances shorthanded which is amazing given the Minnesota power play was at one point the best in the nation. The Gophers also took some very bad and untimely penalties, such as Seth Ambroz negating the last 56 seconds of a power play with a boarding call away from the play. By the time Nelson scored on his sixth shot of the game, it was no surprise to see the home team ahead.
There are a few positives for Minnesota to take away from tonight's game - it would be remiss to not mention Zach Budish's playmaking and the defense rebounding from Notre Dame shredding them - but this is their third straight loss and the Gophers are 13th in the Pairwise rankings (which decide the teams that make the NCAA Tournament). Things which worked earlier in the seasons are not and it is time to mix up lines that aren't working or having players sit a game.
North Dakota is a good team and deserved to win tonight, but it's cause for concern when Gopher hockey is being outworked and not overcoming adversity. If playing against a rival like UND can't get them going, what will?
Minnesota and North Dakota play again Saturday at 7 PM. The game is broadcast on FSN Plus due to the Minnesota Wild playing the St. Louis Blues. Be sure to check your local listings.