DENVER — UNO’s trip down the comeback trail took a wrong turn in the final six minutes.
Three times Friday night the 13th-ranked Mavericks cut into two-goal deficits against ninth-ranked Denver. Twice they got within one goal only to give up another goal almost instantly.
And, after finally tying the game 4-4 on a Ryan Walters goal with 7:41 left, the Mavs saw Zac Larraza score two goals in the next 1:56, and then Denver added an empty-netter for a 7-4 WCHA win.
“Denver is a good hockey team,” University of Nebraska at Omaha coach Dean Blais said. “We had the momentum on our side. But we found a way to lose instead of finding a way to win — and that’s not the sign of a championship team.
“The one positive thing is that we didn’t quit. We fought to the end. At least the effort was there.”
UNO (13-9-1, 9-5-1 WCHA) grabbed the momentum in the third period, as Brent Gwidt scored a short-handed goal 25 seconds into the period and Walters’ goal finally tied it.
But Denver (13-6-3, 8-4-3) found a way to pull itself into a tie for first place in the WCHA with 19 points despite being outshot 42-22.
“We outshot them and the (shot) attempts were probably 3 to 1 — I’m sure we had over 60 attempts,” Blais said. “We carried the play to them, but we needed a big save and an opportune save.”
Matt White fired a pass across the front of the goal to Walters, who handled it and pushed it into an open net for the national-best 14th of the season for the junior.
“When we get the game tied 4-4, we’ve got to get at least a tie out of that,” Blais said.
But Larraza sidestepped defenseman Michael Young at the blue line and marched in alone on John Faulkner to score with 6:13 left.
Larraza scored again two minutes later on a rebound of a blocked shot, making it 6-4 with 4:18 to go.
Faulkner (11-4-1) saved 15 of 21 shots in his first game since backup Anthony Stolarz left the program.
“They can’t score six goals on 20 shots,” Blais said. “Johnny just had a rough night.”
Trailing 2-0, Walters stole the puck at the blue line, setting up a 3-on-1. The Hobey Baker Award candidate slid the puck to the forehand of Josh Archibald, who was flying up the left wing and converted for his 12th goal of the season.
But 14 seconds later, Quentin Shore scored his fourth goal to restore the lead to two goals, at 3-1.
UNO got within 3-2 late in the period with a power-play goal as White sent in a laser from the point, with Andrej Sustr getting credit for a deflected goal with 2:21 left in the period.
But the Mavs still faced a two-goal deficit heading into the second intermission. After they turned it over deep in their own end, Larraza found Shawn Ostrow in front and Ostrow jabbed in his own rebound for a 4-2 lead with 30 seconds left in the period.
But Zahn Raubenheimer set up Gwidt for a short-handed goal, sweeping around Nick Shore to put it on net and Gwidt jammed it in.
UNO kept putting shots on goal in the first period, but Denver got a couple of its limited opportunities — including two of its first three — in the net.
Faulkner had no chance on the Pioneers’ first goal, as David Makowski cashed in a power play while stationed all alone at the far post, where he deposited a cross-ice pass from Nolan Zajac just 2:27 into the game.
The Mavs were putting together a solid power play of their own about six minutes later, when Matt Tabrum took advantage of a turnover at the blue line to race in on a short-handed breakaway. He beat Faulkner with a backhander that he lifted high for the first of his two goals.
Meanwhile Juho Olkinuora — fourth nationally in save percentage (.948) and fifth in goals-against average (1.55) — turned aside plenty of solid scoring chances.
He denied both Walters on a backhander on a mini-breakaway — as well as White on the rebound — with about five minutes left. He stopped Bryce Aneloski from the slot with about 1:30 to go.
He made 21 first-period saves to keep the Mavs at bay. Denver had just six shots on goal in the opening 20 minutes.
UNO (13-9-1, 9-5-1)...........0 2 2—4
At Denver (13-6-3, 8-4-3).....2 2 3—7
First period: 1, DU, Makowski 6 (Zajac, N.Shore), 2:29 (pp). 2, DU, Tabrum 5 (Mayfield), 8:41 (sh).
Second period: 3, UNO, Archibald 12 (Walters), 3:57. 4, DU, Q.Shore 7 (Jacobson, Mayfield), 4:11. 5, UNO, Sustr 6 (White, Young), 17:39 (pp). 6, DU, Ostrow 7 (Larraza, Doremus), 19:30.
Third period: 7, UNO, Gwidt 5 (Raubenheimer, Sustr), :25 (sh). 8, UNO, Walters 14 (White), 12:19. 9, DU, Larraza 3, 13:46. 10, DU, Larraza 4 (LaLeggia, Q.Shore), 15:42. 11, DU, Tabrum 6 (Q.Shore), 19:57 (en).
Shots on goal:
UNO.......21 8 13—42
DU..........6 8 8—22
Power plays: UNO 1-3, DU 1-3.
Penalties-minutes: UNO 6-20, DU 5-10.
Goalies: UNO, Faulkner 11-4-1 (21 shots-15 saves), 57:52. DU, Olkinuora 7-1-3 (42-38), 60:00.