Josh Archibald tormented Denver again.
UNO's junior forward has bedeviled plenty of opponents during his 23-goal season, but what he's done to the Pioneers is particularly cruel. He scored two more goals Friday night in front of 6,281 at the CenturyLink Center, including the game-winner, in a 4-2 victory.
And that's in addition to the two overtime game-winners he scored against Denver during UNO's road sweep in November.
“I don't know if it's luck when we play against them or what,” Archibald said.
Archibald broke a 2-2 third-period tie by blowing past a player at the blue line along the left-wing boards, then cutting across the slot. He steadied himself, then lifted a shot over the glove of goalie Sam Brittain with 8:52 left.
“He continues to amaze me with his ability to not only beat the defenseman, but then to get on the goaltender and make a great play,” UNO coach Dean Blais said. “I've been with players who go that fast, and then they aren't able to finish. He's developed a finishing touch.”
Archibald has five goals in his last two games and nine in his last six to run away with the National Collegiate Hockey Conference's goal lead. He already has the fourth highest single-season goal total in school history, has the most since Scott Parse scored 24 in 2005-06 and is within four of tying Bill Thomas' school record 27 in 2004-05.
“His speed and skill hurts you, and he's playing with such great confidence,” said Denver coach Jim Montgomery, who apparently has done nothing to deserve what Archibald has done to him and his team. “But what I think makes him an All-American is how hard he plays without the puck and how he's finishing checks on the forecheck, how he's back-checking hard and his penalty-killing for them. He does everything.”
Brock Montpetit, who expertly centered UNO's second line, added a late-game insurance goal to his second-period assist as the Mavericks improved to 12-13-2 and 9-6-2-1 in the NCHC. They moved into a tie for second place with North Dakota, three points behind St. Cloud State.
No. 18 Denver dropped to 13-10-6 and 7-7-3-2 while slipping from a fifth-place tie to sole possession of sixth with 26 points, though the Pioneers are four points behind the Mavs and North Dakota.
Meanwhile, UNO can celebrate its first Friday night victory since November. The Mavs had been 0-5-1 in series openers since then.
“Not because we haven't played well (on Fridays), it's just because that's the way this league is,” Blais said.
UNO scored twice in a span of 16 seconds in the opening minutes of the second period to overcome a 1-0 deficit, and then broke away from a 2-2 tie while outshooting the Pioneers 15-3 in the final period.
“I think our speed kind of tired them out,” Archibald said. “That's one of the big things we like to use. We got cycling the puck, and their defense just got worn down, and we just took anything and everything to the net. That's a good goaltender (Brittain is among the national leaders in goals-against average and save percentage), and all those shots, some are bound to go in.”
Denver also played most of the final 30 minutes without defenseman Joey LaLeggia, an All-America candidate who left with an injury after being checked by Archibald.
With UNO trailing 1-0, Montpetit threaded a pass through the neutral zone between two Denver players onto the stick of Austin Ortega for a breakaway. The freshman from Escondido, Calif., calmly skated in, moved the puck to his backhand, then tucked it between Brittain's legs for his seventh goal of the year.
“I thought Brock was one of the best players on the ice, had one of his best games of the year,” Blais said.
Then Ryan Walters, who has been ill this week and opened the game on UNO's fourth forward line, returned to the top line in the second period and set up Archibald in front with a backhand pass from behind the goal. Archibald buried it for a 2-1 lead with 17:51 left in the period.
“Things weren't working too well the first period, having only five shots on goal,” Archibald said. “I think coach wanted to change things up and spark some guys. Brock, Ortega and Gentz (Jake Guentzel) had a great game, and having Walt back on our line (with Dominic Zombo) sparked us.”
Denver tied the game with 4:36 left in the second period. Kirk Thompson stopped Will Butcher's shot, but lost track of it with the puck underneath his body. As Thompson began to move, the puck slid from underneath him and trickled over the goal line.
The Pioneers appeared to have taken the lead 65 seconds later, as Grant Arnold spun and fired through traffic past Thompson. But Denver's Zac Larraza appeared to have a skate in the crease, and the goal was waved off because of interference.
Denver (13-10-6, 7-7-3-2) .......................................... 1 1 0—2
At UNO (12-13-2, 9-6-2-1) .......................................... 0 2 2—4
First period: 1, DU, Doremus 7 (VanVoorhis, Didier), 17:30.
Second period: 2, UNO, Ortega 7 (Montpetit, Guentzel), 1:53. 3, UNO, Archibald 22 (Walters, Zombo), 2:09. 4, DU, Butcher 6 (Shore, Levin), 15:24 (4on4).
Third period: 5, UNO, Archibald 23 (Searfoss), 11:08. 6, UNO, Montpetit 11 (Ortega, Megna), 16:07 (pp).
Shots on goal:
Denver .......................................... 8 11 3—22
UNO ............................................... 5 11 15—31
Power plays: DU 0-2, UNO 1-4.
Penalties-minutes: DU 6-23, UNO 4-8.
Goalies: DU, Brittain 13-9-6 (31 shots-27 saves), 59:44. UNO, Thompson 5-4-1 (22-20), 59:56.