GRAND FORKS-It took until the final second of the regular season for the University of North Dakota to extend its run of top-half conference finishes to 16 years.
It took a third-period rally and an overtime goal Saturday night, March 10, for UND to extend its run of first-round playoff victories and spring break in the Twin Cities to 16 years.
Now, two nights of hockey and 15 games sit between UND and one more program record streak.
The Fighting Hawks (16-12-10) are aiming to reach the NCAA tournament for the 16th-straight season, which is the second-longest run in college hockey history, only behind Michigan's run of 22 seasons. The Hawks sit in a precarious position, though, right on the bubble of an at-large berth.
UND coach Brad Berry would like his team to take the simple route to the NCAAs by winning the National Collegiate Hockey Conference Frozen Faceoff and earning an automatic bid. That would require beating No. 1 St. Cloud State University in the Friday, March 16, semifinal at 4:08 p.m. in St. Paul's Xcel Energy Center and then winning another game against University of Minnesota Duluth or University of Denver on Saturday night, March 17.
"It's a new weekend," Berry said. "It's a blank slate. We have to live for another weekend here. I think the guys identified what it took to win two games. They put it on the backburner now and moved ahead to another weekend where our lives are still on the line. We have to survive this weekend and keep playing each and every weekend."
Does the team feel like their backs are still against the wall, even after the sweep of the University of Nebraska Omaha in the first round of the NCHC playoffs?
"One-hundred percent," Berry said. "We're not off the hook. We won't be off the hook, hopefully, until April. We have to make sure the urgency, the compete level, the intensity is there from everybody. You're going to have to win two games (on a weekend) the rest of the year to attain what you want. We have to make sure we have that mentality.
"And when I say two games, you can't get past the first game. Our focus is Friday afternoon against St. Cloud. That's the only focus we have."
There's good reason for Berry's feelings.
If UND does not win the Frozen Faceoff, it will need several things to go its way to reach the 16-team NCAA tournament field, which will be announced Sunday morning, March 18.
The Fighting Hawks will need Northeastern or Providence to win Hockey East AND Cornell or Clarkson to win the ECAC.
If they do not-if Boston College, Boston University, Princeton or Harvard wins their postseason tournaments-UND will need to win the Frozen Faceoff to get into the NCAA tournament.
If the Hockey East and ECAC tournaments break right, UND can get in with one win this weekend.
It could also get in with a loss and a tie-as long as Northeastern or Providence win Hockey East, Cornell or Clarkson win the ECAC and either Boston University beats Boston College in the Hockey East semifinals or Michigan Tech beats Northern Michigan in the Western Collegiate Hockey Association final.
There's also a perfect storm situation where UND can sneak in with two losses, but that would require Northeastern or Providence winning Hockey East, Cornell or Clarkson winning ECAC, Michigan Tech winning the WCHA and anybody but Mercyhurst winning Atlantic Hockey.
But the major key for UND-if it does not win the Frozen Faceoff-centers around Northeastern or Providence winning Hockey East and Cornell or Clarkson winning the ECAC.
Of course, the Fighting Hawks could just take things into their own hands and win the playoff tournament for the first time since 2012, when they were in the WCHA.
That's what they'd prefer to do.
"We had our backs against the wall the past two weekends," UND junior forward Joel Janatuinen said. "I think we thrive under that pressure. The good thing is that every game coming up is just like that. I think we're ready for the challenge.
"We know we have to put together some wins. We're going after two wins in St. Paul this weekend, for sure."