Aaron Crandall was the equalizer, and that made Minnesota-Duluth a winner.
Crandall, the Bulldogs' senior goalie, made 38 saves Friday night to help his team hold on for a 3-2 victory over UNO in front of 6,124 at the CenturyLink Center.
Few saves were better, and none more timely, than when Crandall denied Josh Archibald on a semi-breakaway with just more than a minute left.
On one of his signature moves, Archibald swept wide past a defenseman and then cut in front of the goal, but Crandall was equal to the task.
“He made a good play on the net and Cranny made a good save there, but you need those,” Minnesota-Duluth coach Scott Sandelin said. “Every team needs those timely saves to win hockey games or preserve wins, and certainly Cranny did that tonight. He made a lot of very good saves at crucial times.
“He was good. He was our best player tonight.”
Archibald, tied for third nationally with 14 goals and the national leader with seven third-period scores, was shut out Friday despite having nine shots on goal.
“For the goalie to get all the way across the crease, matching Arch's speed — which is tough to do — tip your hat to the goalie for making the save,” UNO assistant Alex Todd said. “And a lot of credit to Arch for having the gas in the tank late to turn on the jets and create the opportunity. You always want him to finish those, but sometimes two good players even each other out.”
Minnesota-Duluth broke open a scoreless game with two goals late in the second period, extending UNO's winless streak to five games.
Alex Iafallo had two assists for the Bulldogs, who improved to 8-8-1 overall and 4-5 in the NCHC, good for fifth place. The Mavericks, 0-4-1-1 (with a shootout victory) since Nov. 23, dropped to 8-10-1 overall and 5-3-1-1 in the NCHC. UNO dropped to third in the conference, five points behind first-place St. Cloud State.
“We've got to figure out a way to get back to winning,” Mav captain Michael Young said. “Tomorrow is the biggest game of the year. We've got to turn it around right now.”
Three-game suspensions for coach Dean Blais and star defenseman Jaycob Megna following an extra-benefits violation have now expired, and both will be back for Saturday's 7:07 p.m. series finale.
With UNO trailing 3-1 and with goalie Ryan Massa pulled with 2:27 left, UNO freshman defenseman Ian Brady floated a shot through traffic past Crandall to cut the Mavs' deficit to 3-2.
Archibald, who had three of UNO's five goals last weekend, made his bid a minute later.
“I don't think we're worried about how we're producing,” Young said. “When the floodgates open, they're going to open. We're just not putting pucks in the net the way we can. No one has confidence right now. But as soon as it comes … things will happen the way they should.”
UNO's struggling penalty kill was solid, thwarting all four Minnesota-Duluth attempts, but the Bulldogs managed the game's first goal seconds after a power play had expired and before Jake Guentzel could get into the play after leaving the penalty box.
Iafallo lobbed a shot from the right point toward the goal and Dominic Toninato deflected the puck past Massa at 14:55.
Then the Bulldogs added a dagger with 31.5 seconds left in the period. Iafallo set up Adam Krause with a pass from the goal line to the left faceoff circle, and Krause — brother of former UNO forward Joe Krause — delivered a one-timer for his fourth goal of the season.
“It's been the same thing the last couple weekends: just shot ourselves in the foot, basically,” Young said. “Not picking up our guys in the 'D' zone, defensive breakdowns all over the ice. They scored on their chances, and we're not burying the pucks we need to bury.”
The Mavs made it 2-1 with 14:05 left in the game on the power play. Defenseman Nick Seeler floated a shot from the blue line that appeared to deflect off a Bulldog and through the legs of Johnnie Searfoss before getting behind Crandall.
But Minnesota-Duluth restored its two-goal lead as defenseman Andy Welinski took a faceoff won by teammate Tony Cameranesi and beat Massa from the top of the right faceoff circle with 11:31 to go.
The Mavs outshot Minnesota-Duluth 40-30, but dropped to 2-3-1 when they've had 40 shots or more.
“We had some good players get some good opportunities, and they usually finish those,” Todd said. “…We can't be frustrated, angry or mad. We've just got to know that in our league it's tough to win. We played pretty well, but not well enough.”
UNO NOTES: Seeler's goal was originally credited to Searfoss. … Senior forward Zahn Raubenheimer was a healthy scratch for the second consecutive game.
Minnesota-Duluth (8-8-1, 4-5-0) ................ 0 2 1—3
UNO (8-10-1, 5-3-1-1) ............................... 0 0 2—2
Second period: 1, MD, Toninato 4 (Iafallo, Raskob), 14:55. 2, MD, Krause 4 (Iafallo, Toninato), 19:28.
Third period: 3, UNO, Seeler 2 (Ortega, Montpetit), 5:55 (pp). 4, MD, Welinski 2 (Cameranesi), 8:29. 5, UNO, Brady 4 (Young, Montpetit), 17:33 (ex).
Shots on goal:
Minnesota-Duluth .......................................... 8 17 5—30
UNO .......................................... 13 13 14—40
Power plays: MD 0-4, UNO 1-6
Penalties-minutes: MD 6-12, UNO 4-8.
Goalies: MD, A.Crandall (6-5) 40 shots-38 saves, 60:00. UNO, Massa (5-5) 30-27, 58:43. Att.—6,124.