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Final Five: Duluth stifles Sioux

ST. PAUL - Most of the teams at the Western Collegiate Hockey Association Final Five came here needing wins in order to make the NCAA tournament.

After Friday night, the UND men's hockey team is glad that it wasn't one of them.

Minnesota-Duluth shut down the WCHA's most potent offense for a third time this season in a 3-0 decision in front of 17,729 in Xcel Energy Center.

The win almost surely secures a spot in the NCAA tournament for the Bulldogs, who will take on Denver in the battle of the Mohawks -- both teams showed up with the same hairdos -- for the Broadmoor Trophy at 7:07 tonight.

The greatest significance of UND's third-place game against Wisconsin will be momentum and seeding for the NCAA tournament. The Sioux, 24-13-4, have already secured a spot and will find out where they're going at 10:30 a.m. Sunday (ESPN2).

But they want to figure out how to win a game at a neutral-site tournament before the NCAAs start. The Sioux are now 0-for-5 in that department, dropping two games at the Ice Breaker Invitational in Boston and the Great Lakes Invitational in Detroit earlier this season.

"We don't want to be going into next weekend on a low point," UND captain Ryan Duncan said. "We want to come back and get some momentum back. Looking at (Friday's) game, there are a lot of things we need to work on, so (today's) game is very important to us."

First-team all-WCHA goalie Alex Stalock put the brakes on UND's tear through the second half. Stalock posted his fourth shutout of the season by stopping 31 shots. In four playoff games, the South St. Paul native has stopped 135 of 138 shots (.978).

He led Duluth to a sweep of Colorado College in the first round -- making the Bulldogs the first team to sweep the Tigers in Colorado Springs in three years. On Thursday night he knocked out Minnesota -- making the Bulldogs the first team to hold the Gophers out of the semifinals at the Final Five in 11 years.

And tonight, he will try to make the Bulldogs the first team to ever win the Broadmoor Trophy after having to play the Thursday night play-in game.

"I thought Duluth played an outstanding game," UND coach Dave Hakstol said. "They came out, got an early lead and played a solid team game for 60 minutes. We weren't able to change that.

"We needed a bounce or two along the way, in or around Alex Stalock. But he wouldn't allow that to happen. He made some big saves. And when you are making big saves, you get a bounce or two along the way. He was tremendous tonight and I think his team played very well."

Duluth used the same recipe as previous playoff wins: Get an early lead and lean on Stalock the rest of the way.

MacGregor Sharp scored shorthanded 5 minutes, 10 seconds into the game, capitalizing on a breakdown behind UND's net. Sioux goalie Brad Eidsness (21 saves) stopped a clearing attempt behind his net and held it up for a defenseman. But Sharp was the closest player and he quickly grabbed it and put it in the open net.

"I had a pretty good start on it," Sharp said. "He must not have seen me or he must have been leaving it for their D-men. I'll take that any day."

Mike Montgomery added a goal just 2:31 later, throwing a blind, turnaround shot just inside the post from the circle. That goal quieted a crowd that was heavily in favor of the Sioux.

Eidsness settled into his game and kept Duluth off the scoreboard until Mike Connolly buried an empty-netter at 18:07 of the third, but UND couldn't take advantage of any chances.

Its best opportunity came when Brady Lamb was called for a five-minute major for kneeing Matt Watkins, who was hurt but later returned to the game. UND got four shots on goal during that power play, but no Grade A chances.

UND's other opportunities came early in the third period, when they buzzed around Stalock. But the junior goalie stood tall.

"We were pressing, we just couldn't get a puck past him," UND's Jason Gregoire said. "We try not to get too down or too high. But it was kind of a disappointing loss. Now we have to come back tomorrow."

Notes: UND has now allowed 10 shorthanded goals this season. . . . In each of UND's last two losses, UND has allowed a shorthanded goal and failed to score on a five-minute major power play.