UNO moved into sole possession of second place in the WCHA with a 5-2 victory over #6 Denver tonight in front of a smaller-than-expected crowd at the Qwest Center. The Mavs got off to a strong start with a dominating first period performance capped off by a short-handed goal by Rich Purslow off a great pass by Joey Martin. But UNO couldn't find the back of the net again in the first period despite numerous good scoring opportunities. Denver came back to tie the game early in the second period, only to have Johnnie Searfoss slap one home to regain the lead at 2-1.
In the third period, Denver turned up the heat and tied the game on a defensive miscue as Jason Zucker found Drew Shore wide open in front of the net. Two minutes later, Matt Ambrosz deflected a Andrej Sustr laserbeam slapshot to break the tie once again. Matt White then raced in shorthanded for an unassisted goal to widen the lead to 4-2. Denver pulled goalie Adam Murray with over three minutes left in the game, but couldn't get anything past UNO's John Faulkner. Rich Purslow netted an empty-net goal in the final second to give the Mavs a 5-2 victory.
That victory combined with Colorado College's 5-4 victory over Minnesota-Duluth put the Mavs in second place, just one point behind first place North Dakota, who was idle this evening. It may be difficult for UNO to pass the Sioux in these final games; North Dakota has two games against 10th place Bemidji State and two more against last place Michigan Tech to close out the season. But second is still a huge accomplishment since the top two teams in the regular season can earn byes in the opening games at the WCHA Final Five, should they win their first round playoff series.
The win didn't do much for UNO's standings in the Pairwise standings that determine the NCAA tournament seedings; they're still ninth. Tonight's win gave the Mavs back-to-back 20 win seasons for just the second time in school history. Huge accomplishment. But UNO needs to finish off the Pioneers tomorrow night to set themselves up for a solid finish, because tomorrow night's winner will be in second place going into the final weekend of the regular season.