UNO's first day of preparation for the WCHA playoffs was a day to get healthy.
The Mavericks took Monday off before returning to practice Tuesday.
“For a lot of reasons,” UNO coach Dean Blais said. “I thought we needed it, physically and mentally.”
A weekend snowstorm that led to some slow travel on the team's overnight bus trip home from Duluth, Minn., and would have made Monday travel around town difficult, at least contributed to the extra day off. But it was Saturday's 6-0 loss — UNO's fourth straight defeat — that was the main motivation.
“It was definitely needed,” said junior forward Matt White, one of UNO's co-captains. “When you get to the playoffs, you don't necessarily want days off, but the way we've been playing right now, I think it was just time for a little time for ourselves and to refocus.”
No. 20 UNO got home just a little late Sunday morning. The team did spend time together on Monday. Players went to a movie.
“I think we needed to get away from the ice a little bit and regroup as a team,” junior forward Ryan Walters said. “We went to a team movie to have some fun with the guys and relax a little. We've been uptight with this losing streak that we're on. We tried to change something up to maybe get a little bit of chemistry back.”
The Mavericks' second straight season-ending tailspin has sent them on the road for the playoffs as the seventh seed once again. This time, they'll play their best-of-three series with Nos. 10 and 11 Minnesota State-Mankato, with games Friday, Saturday and — if necessary — Sunday scheduled for 7:07 p.m. at the Verizon Wireless Center.
After an impressive start to the season, UNO has lost seven of its last nine games, including its last four. The Mavs ultimately needed four more points to have home ice for the opening round.
After losing in overtime to Michigan Tech on Feb. 2, the Mavs were still in second place in the WCHA, three points out of first, before being swept at home by North Dakota on Feb. 8 and 9.
The Mavs lost a hard-fought 2-1 game at CenturyLink Center on Feb. 8, but fell behind 3-0 the following night in the outdoor game at TD Ameritrade Park and lost 5-2.
“It probably started with North Dakota,” Blais said. “Two home games with North Dakota, the first time we've been swept. Part of it is was not-so-great conditions for the outdoor game — that favors the team that won on Friday night. ... We didn't have a chance to really recover, especially with the way that game went.”
UNO went to Alaska-Anchorage and swept the last-place Seawolves, including twice rallying from two-goal deficits and eventually winning in overtime in the second game.
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But four consecutive losses followed. UNO has given up 26 goals in its last five games.
Blais said he may have put too much pressure on his team to land home ice, and that was a major factor in Saturday's 6-0 loss, the team's worst in three seasons.
He said the interest some of his players are receiving from NHL teams may be a small factor, too.
The penalty kill has fallen apart, allowing five goals in eight chances Saturday and 13 goals in 26 opportunities over the last five games.
“It's kind of easy to throw things out there when you're on a losing streak and blame certain things,” White said. “It just comes down to putting the puck in the net and keeping the puck out of our net.
“We took too many penalties (at Minnesota-Duluth). Their special teams won the weekend — that's plain and simple. But as far as being nervous — we've played enough hockey and I don't think we were nervous at all. It just comes down to who wants to win more.”
Said Walters: “I don't know what happened Saturday night. We all knew that home ice was on the line, and for some reason we didn't come out playing the way we should have to make sure we secured it. As a result, we got beat 6-0.”
UNO (18-16-2) and Minnesota State (22-11-3) played a series in Omaha in mid-December, with MSU winning the opener 6-3 before UNO bounced back to end MSU's seven-game winning streak with a 5-1 win in the second game.
While MSU has gone 12-5-1 since then, UNO has gone 7-10-1.
“My first challenge is to get the team to believe they can do it after four straight losses,” Blais said. “This has got to be a good week of execution, confidence building and the players buying in to everything we've tried to do.
“We've played well enough and have had enough success to not have to change a whole lot of things. They know the systems and they know how we're supposed to play. Now they have to just execute it. We have to come together, play for each other, forget any kind of distractions — whatever they may be.”
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