NCHC Roundup: Denver Rolls Into Playoffs With 11th Straight Win
CHN Staff Report
Denver closed out the regular season with its 11th straight win, defeating Nebraska-Omaha, 3-0.
The Pioneers, the No. 1 team in the Pairwise, will host Colorado College to begin the playoffs next week, in a best-of-3 series.
Senior Evan Cowley got the start in goal and made 28 saves for the fifth shutout of his career. It was only his fifth decision this season, however.
“I’ve said all year that we have the two best goalies in the conference and Evan Cowley proved that tonight – he was spectacular,” Denver coach Jim Montgomery said. “We didn’t have our ‘A’ game at any point this weekend but we stayed composed and found a way to win on both nights. This is a resilient group we have here and we definitely feel good about where we’re at collectively as we head into the best part of the season – the playoffs.”
Henrik Borgstrom continued his torrid pace with two more goals, including an empty netter. The Florida Panthers' first-round draft pick had four goals on the weekend, and has 6-3—9 in his last five games.
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North Dakota's road sweep of Miami, capped by Saturday's 5-2 win, was huge in many ways.
For one, it locked up the fourth and final home-ice spot for next week's NCHC Quarterfinals. The Fighting Hawks will host St. Cloud State in the best-of-3 series.
In addition, the wins moved North Dakota back up to 12 in the Pairwise, where it had been slipping recently and was in serious danger of not making the NCAAs, despite being a host in the Fargo Regional this year.
[[Tucker Poolman]] scored twice for North Dakota.
"We weren't good enough," Miami coach Enrico Blasi said. "North Dakota took it to us right from the beginning and they deserved to win."
Miami will face second-seeded Minnesota-Duluth in next week's quarters.
'We've got a new season. Everybody's at the same point now," Blasi said. "We've got to regroup. We've got to be a lot better in the buy-in, the compete level and execution. We had lots of opportunities to execute today and didn't do that. Whether it's defensively or offensively, we've got to be a better team."
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For the second straight night, Colorado College spotted St. Cloud State an early 1-0 lead and rallied to take a 2-1 lead over the Huskies in the first period. This time, they made it stick.
Thanks to first-period goals from Branden Makara and Matt Hansen and stellar goaltending from Alex Leclerc, the Tigers (8-22-4, 4-16-4-1 NCHC) defeated the Huskies, 2-1, Saturday night in the regular-season finale for both teams.
“This was a huge win for us,” CC coach Mike Haviland said. “We competed for 60 minutes tonight. This was a playoff game and the kind of game that gives us confidence and the feeling that we can beat anyone in the country.”
CC will travel up the road to play Denver in a best-of-3 series next weekend, a daunting task for the Tigers. St. Cloud goes to North Dakota for the 4-5 series.
Leclerc was brilliant after giving up a first-period goal, including a sprawling save on Daniel Tedesco just before the Huskies’ 5-on-3 chance in the second period and stopping a point-blank shot by Judd Peterson with four minutes left in the third. Leclerc finished with 25 saves.
“Alex was just outstanding tonight, especially during the 5-on-3 in the second period,” Haviland said. “He gave us a ton of confidence as the game went on.”
About Denver, Haviland said, “I have been a number one seed and a number 16 seed in the playoffs. It is a brand new season and we need to play with the mentality we did tonight.”
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Minnesota-Duluth came back Saturday for a split with host Western Michigan, behind two goals from Adam Johnson.
UMD hosts Miami next week for the quarterfinals. Western Michigan hosts Nebraska-Omaha. Both teams are already well-ensconced in the NCAA picture. In fact, despite the loss and Minnesota's win, WMU remained in the No. 4 overall slot in the Pairwise, which is the last No. 1 seed.