March 21, 2009

And the beat goes on.

The University of Minnesota Duluth's perfect post-season run continued Saturday night as the Bulldogs skated off with a 3-0 semifinal-round victory over the University of North Dakota at St. Paul's Excel Energy Center and advanced to the WCHA Final Five title game for the first time ever. The No. 17 Bulldogs, who have now won a school-record four straight WCHA playoff games, will battle the University of Denver Saturday in the championship bout.

For the second straight night, senior center MacGregor Sharp took advantage of a miscue by the opposing goaltender to put UMD up 1-0. At the 5:10 mark of the first period while the Bulldogs were a down a man, Sharp pounced on a loose puck behind the North Dakota net that Sioux goalie Brad Eidsness had left for a teammate and deposited it into an empty net. It was his team-leading 22nd goal of the season and first career shorthander. A little over two minutes later with the teams skating four-one-four, sophomore defenseman Michael Montgomery scored on wrister from between the faceoff circles for his second goal of the year to extend the lead to 2-0.

"We knew going into tonight we needed to play a better 60-minute game," said UMD head coach Scott Sandelin. "Getting off to a good start and get that lead early was important. We obviously got a break with MacGregor Sharp's goal. That was a huge lift for us."

There was no scoring in the second period, although No. 6 North Dakota certainly had its chances when it was given a five-minute player play 4:40 in when Bulldog rookie defenseman Brady Lamb received a major penalty for kneeing. UMD wound up spending nine of the 20 minutes during that period killing penalties.

"I can't say enough about our penalty killers and what they've done the last two games," said Sandelin. "They've done a tremendous job and our goaltending has had a big part of that."

That's putting it mildly. The numbers junior netminder and 2008-09 All-WCHA first team selection Alex Stalock has produced against playoff competition are downright staggering -- a 4-0-0 record, a 0.75 goals against average and a .985 saves (he's stopped 105 of 108 shots). Saturday he was credited with 31 stops against the WCHA regular season champion Sioux en route to securing his fourth shutout of 2008-09 and eighth of his career, which moved him into a share of first place on UMD's all-time charts.

"Our goal tonight was to get that first goal in the first five minutes and set the tempo for the game," said Stalock. "I thought we did a good job with that."

Freshman right winger Mike Connolly iced the victory with an empty net goal with 53 seconds remaining in regulation. UMD (20-18-8 overall) now has the opportunity to become the first play-in game participant in the 17-year history of the WCHA Final Final to claim the playoff championship.

"We've got a nice little grove going now," said Sharp, who will take a career-high nine-game scoring steak into Saturday night's clash with Denver. "But we aren't done yet."