There are different levels to the Mercyhurst women's hockey team.
The first order of business is achieving conference success by continuing to dominate the five-team College Hockey America.
The second order is to tend to the national picture as the Lakers pursue a national title, ranked as high as No. 4 in the Division I polls after back-to-back Frozen Four appearances.
And while the Lakers appeared to have an easy time on the scoreboard, completing the shutout sweep of Niagara with a 3-0 win Sunday afternoon, the weekend at Dwyer was crucial to the team's late-season development.
"This time of year, every win is enormous," Mercyhurst coach Mike Sisti said. "I love what [Niagara coach] Chris [MacKenzie] is doing with his team. They remind me of us a few years ago and we know that we have to earn every inch out there.
"I think this weekend made us better. You have to be great defensively to win in the playoffs. Sometimes we've been great defensively and other times we have not. This weekend I not only felt we played great defensively not giving up a goal, but also in not giving up a lot of shots."
On Sunday, Niagara managed 15 shots on goal and played good defense itself, keeping Mercyhurst off the scoreboard for the first 40 minutes.
The Lakers (22-5-0, 11-0-0 CHA) burst through just 1:46 into the third when Jess Jones took a pass from Vicki Bendus on a two-on-one break and beat Niagara goalie Jenni Bauer.
Mercyhurst then took advantage of a five-on-three power play with Bendus cashing in and made it 3-0 with another power-play tally by Christine Bestland.
"We've come a long way from the start of the year," said Bendus, who ranks second on the Lakers with 43 points. "Early on, we battled some inconsistency but since Christmas we've been better with that, showing up every game."
Niagara (8-14-4, 5-4-1 CHA) went 0 for 4 on the power play, including failing to score on its own five-on-three. The Purple Eagles did hang on to second place in the CHA, one of the team's goals heading toward the playoffs.
"We had a good battle with them," MacKenzie said. "We just didn't cash in on some opportunities. We're not a high-scoring team so after their power play goals it was hard for us to come back but I loved the energy we had in the third period."
Bauer recorded 27 saves in the loss and was the brightest spot for Niagara on the weekend as Mercyhurst outshot the Purple Eagles, 70-25.
The Lakers' Meghan Agosta, the nation's leader scorer, picked up two points in the weekend series while tossing a total 19 shots on net.