Jan. 19—ST. CLOUD, Minn. — Ludvig Persson battled an injury his first week back from Christmas break.
He got sick the following week.
"Obviously, it's not how you want to start the new year," Persson said. "But you've got to be able to face some adversity and that's what I did. I'm glad to be back to 100 percent."
UND is thankful for it, too.
Persson was sensational in turning aside 34 of 37 shots Friday night, helping UND to a 5-3 win over St. Cloud State in the Herb Brooks National Hockey Center.
UND vaulted into first place in the National Collegiate Hockey Conference standings with the win, one point ahead of the Huskies, who lost in regulation for just the second time in 11 league games.
"It's always good to be in first, but it's always hard to stay in first," UND forward Jackson Blake said. "We've just got to play how we've been playing and do what we can to stay there."
Blake led the Fighting Hawks offensively, scoring two goals and tallying three points. Defenseman Garrett Pyke, forward Cameron Berg and forward Louis Jamernik V also scored, while Jake Livanavage and Owen McLaughlin had two-assist nights.
But Persson stole the show Friday.
UND built a two-goal lead in the first, then leaned on Persson as the Huskies outshot the Fighting Hawks 32-12 over the game's final 40 minutes.
It marked the most shots allowed in a game by UND this season and the highest number of saves by Persson.
"He's amazing," Livanavage said. "He's unbelievable every night. He made a couple of saves tonight that you just don't even think goalies can make. It was an outstanding effort by him and it was just a great all-around effort."
UND extended its streak without losing a regulation game to 16. It last lost in regulation on Nov. 3 at Boston University.
The Fighting Hawks need one point in the series finale at 6 p.m. Saturday to keep a share of first place at the midway point of the NCHC schedule. They could increase their lead to four points with a regulation win.
"That's where we want to be," Berry said about sitting at the top of the standings. "We've got to keep working hard to stay there. There are a lot of games left, but this game was big in a lot of different ways."
Berry pointed out three keys.
First off, UND did not relinquish an early lead — an issue in its four overtime losses earlier this season.
Second, the Fighting Hawks control their own destiny as they chase a fourth Penrose Cup in five years.
Third, it was a valuable boost in the Pairwise Rankings, where UND jumped to No. 3.
"It's great," Livanavage said. "Obviously, you want to be up there. You don't want to be chasing. At this point, right now, we're in first place. We've kind of earned it. We had a good first half where we didn't play as many conference games. But now, we're coming into our own with the conference here. We looked good tonight. We just have to keep it rolling."
UND never trailed Friday.
It got off to a 2-0 lead in the first period thanks to a Blake snipe at 13:01 and a Garrett Pyke point shot with 6.6 seconds to go in the first.
St. Cloud State forward Mason Salquist, a Grand Forks Red River graduate, closed the gap on the opening shift of the second period, finishing a pass from Kyler Kupka for a backdoor goal.
But UND answered on the power play. Blake rifled a shot past Huskies goalie Dominic Basse (16 saves) to make it 3-1 with 6:02 to go in the second.
The Huskies closed the gap to one goal on two other occasions, but UND answered both of them. Berg scored on the power play, finishing a Jackson Kunz feed, and Jamernik scored into the empty net.
Persson did the rest.
"It's my job to make those key saves to help the team," he said. "I'm glad I could contribute."