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Early lead slips away from DU in loss to #3 North Dakota

Third period struggles return to hurt Pioneers

2016 NCAA Division I Men's Hockey Championships - Semifinals Photo by Elsa/Getty Images

The #1 University of Denver Pioneers fell 5-4 to #3 North Dakota Friday night at Magness Arena, letting an early 3-0 lead slip through their fingers. DU was outscored 3-1 in the third period, a theme in all three of the team’s NCHC losses.

Denver (6-3-2, 2-3-0-0 NCHC) looked like the better team from the jump, peppering North Dakota (8-2-3, 3-1-1-1) goalie Peter Thome with shots in the first 10 minutes. After one such sequence, freshman Jake Durflinger was able to sneak one just past the goal line, confirmed by an official review, to put the Pioneers up seven minutes into the game.

Another seven minutes later, DU exploited a rare breakdown in North Dakota’s penalty kill. Henrik Borgstrom broke down the left side and fed a wide open Jarid Lukosevicius in front of the net, who shelved the puck past Thome. Lukosevicius has come on strong of late, totaling seven points in five conference games.

The Pioneers fired 21 shots on goal in the first period, and it appeared as if the rout was on when Logan O’Connor took a turnover end-to-end and scored a shorthanded breakaway goal, his first of the season, six minutes into the second period.

But the tides turned from the first period, as O’Connor’s chance was one of only five shots the Pioneers managed in the second frame. Zach Yon and Joel Janatuinen each scored their first goals of the year for the Fighting Hawks less than two minutes apart to cut the lead to one at the second intermission.

Both were somewhat soft goals and ones that DU fans are not accustomed to seeing Tanner Jaillet allow. Jaillet made 31 saves on the day, for a .861 save percentage.

Things continued to go downhill for the Pioneers early in the third period. Another quick pair of goals, just over a minute apart, made it four unanswered for North Dakota, who suddenly had the lead after trailing the entire game.

Troy Terry has been the third period hero on numerous occasions this season for the Pioneers and came through again with under nine minutes to play, hauling in a pass from Ian Mitchell and sneaking one past Thome.

Terry’s two points on the night put him at 20 on the season, second in the country behind Notre Dame’s Jake Evans, who has 21.

With time winding down, North Dakota struck again with a shot from the point, a strategy that paid off all night against Jaillet. Hayden Shot’s snap shot from just inside the blue line was redirected by Johnny Simonson past Jaillet. DU pulled Jaillet for the extra attacker, but the goal proved to be the game winner as time expired.

The loss was a letdown, as Denver failed again to keep an early lead against a conference opponent. But one huge positive was the return of Denver captain Tariq Hammond, who played for the first time this season after having ankle surgery in the offseason.

Hammond will continue to get his legs under him and will be a key player and leader for the team going forward.

The teams will rematch again tonight, with puck drop scheduled for 7:05 MT. The game can be seen again on Altitude 2.