It's getting to the part of the hockey season where coaches want to see that fine tournament edge beginning to show.
That finely honed sharpness was all over the place Saturday as the Bismarck Blizzard blanked Grand Forks 6-0 at the VFW Sports Center.
Four of those goals came courtesy of senior Britta Curl, who ran her season's total to 27. She also chipped in an assist to give her 39 points.
Curl quickly dished off credit to her teammates, most notably her senior linemates, Amanda Baerlocher and Felicity Blair. That line accounts for three-quarters of the senior presence on the team.
"Our line was really clicking, and the other lines did a good job of wearing (Grand Forks) down, which made it easier for us," said Curl, whose career-best offensive effort is six goals in a game.
The shutout was the 13th of the season for the Blizzard in 22 games. Sophomore goalie Lauren Watkins, who shares time with junior Skylar Ackerman, said it was the "seventh or eighth" time this season she's blanked an opponent.
Nonetheless, handing the other team a goose egg is still a big deal for Watkins.
"Shutouts never get old," she said.
Although the Blizzard outshot the Knightriders 52-16, Watkins said goalies simply can't take anything for granted.
"You spend all day getting ready for the game. ... You've got to be on your toes all the time. With even the smallest thing, like icing, something could go wrong," she observed.
The Blizzard hit the ice ready to do business. Curl, speeding down the left wing, beat Grand Forks goalie Teresa Mattson to the short side from low in the left circle with 6:16 expired.
There was an immediate ripple effect. Sophomore Madisen Swenson scored from short range at 9:08 and Curl connected from the top of the left circle on a power play at 11:57.
It could have been a lot worse. Mattson was credited with 20 saves in the opening 17 minutes.
The Blizzard struck early in the second period.Junior defenseman Taylor Lenertz found the range from the low left slot at 3:35.
A little over six minutes later, Curl scored another power play goal, beating Mattson on a high shot from the low slot. Curl scored what proved to be the game's final goal at 10:19, finding the net from low in the right circle, again on the power play.
Curl's final goal came less than a minute after she and Payton Kriewald of Grand Forks were involved in a high-speed collision. Curl was slow to rise from the ice, but came back to score 56 seconds later.
After the game, Curl said she was OK.
"We hit knee-to-knee," she said.
With the six-goal running clock mercy rule in effect, the third period expired quickly with neither a goal or a penalty.
Blizzard coach Tim Meyer said Saturday's effort was exactly what he wanted to see with his team playing on short rest. The Blizzard won 7-0 at Devils Lake on Friday night and had to be ready for a 2 p.m. start on Saturday.
"We talked about that. ... You have to deal with adversity once in awhile. I'm glad our girls came out and got started the way he did," Meyer said.
The Blizzard was a step ahead the whole game. Grand Forks managed just two sustained offensive forays in the entire 51 minutes, both in the second period.
"The key for us was everyone bought into the system," Meyer said. "... It's hard for your opponents to score goals when they're 200 feet from the net."
With the Blizzard on the hunt for their fourth straight state title, Curl and Watkins said Saturday's dominant performance is what should be expected for mid-February.
"We try to up the competitive level every week, so when it comes to tournament time we're ready," Watkins said. "We really clicked today. We played as a unit, and that's the ultimate goal."
Curl said Bismarck is making the progress it needs to be ready for the state tournament.
"We keep focusing on getting better every game, and I think we've done that," she observed. "... This is the best full game we've played."
The Blizzard has just one regular-season game remaining. They play host to Fargo Davies on Friday.
By defeating Grand Forks, the Blizzard improved to 15-2 statewide for 51 points. Fargo North-South defeated Williston 10-0 on Saturday to complete the regular season with 54 points.
"The best we can do is second. They have us on the tiebreaker," Meyer noted.
NOTES: Two annual Bismarck girls hockey awards were presented after the game. The Tiffany Eikanas senior athlete award went to Curl. ... Senior defenseman Morgan Paul won the Erin Clayburgh teammate award.