It's on to the Joe!
Michigan came out with one of the most dominating performances I have ever seen, outshooting WMU 21-0 in the first period en route to a 3-0 lead heading to the locker room. For the second straight night it looked like they were going to run WMU out of the building but could only get a couple of shots past Riley Gill. But for the second straight night, a goal late in the period swelled the gap to three.
Western came out with a much better second period, scoring to make it 3-1 before the Wolverines scored yet another late goal to pretty much put the game out of reach. We tacked on two more in the third period (actually it was three, but Shegos was a little quick with the whistle on a puck that was clearly loose and Caporusso's goal was disallowed). Louie was a quick whistle away from a very quiet three point night himself. Even though he's been putting up huge assist numbers, you can tell he's slightly frustrated by the goal scoring slump he's in (just one goal in his last nine games). He couldn't believe Shegos blew that one dead.
There really aren't words to describe the dominating performance by the Wolverines in the first period. The most impressive thing to me tonight was the backchecking. Every time Western was bringing the puck up ice, a Wolverine forward was busting his hump to get back. Most of the time, he'd lift the stick and take the puck away. When WMU got shots off, there was a Michigan player there to block it.
Once again, the line of Palushaj, Hagelin, and Rust was phenomenal. Palushaj had 2-1--3, Hagelin had a pair of assists, and Rust had a goal and an assist. They combined to be +6 on the night. It's pretty impressive when one line can be so dominant at both ends of the ice. For the weekend, Palushaj had six points, Hagelin five, Rust four, and they were a combined +12. In the process, they were a big reason why the Wolverines shut down Patrick Galivan. He had a goal and three shots on the weekend. Keep in mind he had 29 points and 13 multipoint games in his last 15 contests coming into this weekend. Hagelin, surprisingly enough, was the guy getting under the skin of the Broncos for part of the game.
Mark Mitera and Chad Langlais were each +4 tonight.
I thought Tim Miller and Brian Lebler each did some good work on the power play. Lebler popped in a goal--a nice shot where he held off on taking the shot, moved into a better position, and fired it into an empty net--and Miller was pretty good at playing the Max Pacioretty role on the power play. He was getting open an awful lot and Palushaj just couldn't quite get him the puck. A couple passes were slightly off and a couple of them got tipped. Miller ended up with a goal and an assist--along with seven shots on goal--on the night, though.
Really though, you have to give a call to each and every player on the Michigan team. That was as rock solid a team effort as I've seen in a long, long time. They held a team without a shot on goal for an entire period. Western finally got on the shot chart very early in the second period with a long shot from center that may have actually been going wide. Their first legit shot probably didn't come until the second period was like five minutes old.
Hogan ended up facing 23 shots, and a couple of them were big, big saves. The biggest was a pad save he made with about 15 minutes left and the score 4-1. One of the Broncos was wrapping the puck around the net, he centered it to an open player and Hogan slid to his right, kicked out the right pad, and made the stop on what looked like a sure goal.
Billy Sauer got into his final game at Yost as well. With Michigan up 6-1, the coaches swapped goalies with about 10 minutes remaining. Sauer made a couple nice stops with Western on the power play immediately when he came in.
Michigan is an impressive 25-0-0 when scoring 3+ goals. We've only scored fewer than that six times since the College Hockey Showcase, and with competent officiating, that number would be four. With the defense and goaltending this team has, it's no wonder they've been impossible to beat when scoring three for their netminder.
The power play wasn't as productive as you'd probably like it to be (just 1 for 8) but they looked very sharp for a lot of the opportunities. Michigan had an incredible 20 shots on net with the man advantage.
Michigan has three possible opponents for their series at the Joe: Alaska, Ohio State, and Miami. Miami is headed to a third game with NMU. If NMU wins, they get Notre Dame and we get the other game-three winner. If Miami wins, we play them.
The Hockey East Tournament has been kind of crazy. Bret from GBW made a good point: Both Vermont and New Hampshire are out in the first round. Boston University and Northeastern are headed to third games. If BU and Northeastern go down, the bubble shrinks by a team because either BC, UMass, UMass-Lowell, or Maine would win the Hockey East Tournament.
One team no longer in contention for a bid: Incredibly Colorado College. USCHO's preseason #3 will not make the tournament. They're out of the WCHA Playoffs, having been swept at home by Minnesota-Duluth.
Here's a crazy stat for you: Bryan Hogan is 23-4-0, Billy Sauer is 5-6-0. Sauer's save percentage is actually higher (.921 to .917) and his GAA is just .13 lower. Hockey's a strange game sometimes, eh?
Michigan could very legitimately end up with 17 skaters in double-digits in points. Fardig and Glendening are sitting at 9 apiece. We had 15 last year. For all the questions about who would score, Michigan now has 140 goals on the season. They had 170 last year, in five more games than they've currently played. They likely won't match that total, but they'll be in the ballpark. Pretty impressive, knowing the guys that they lost.
Interesting note: A lot of people seem to think that Colin Wilson will win the Hobey. Best player on the #1 team, I guess. But Palushaj and Wilson have played the same number of games, and Palushaj now sits just one point behind him for second on the national list, and first amongst players that don't go to Quinnipiac. Additionally, Louie Caporusso is just three points back, but has nine more goals than Wilson. Amazing that neither of those guys are up for CCHA Player of the Year, but the All-CCHA Honorable Mention goaltender is. (For the record, I don't think it's wrong that Pearce is up for the award.) I guess Jeff Lerg is a bigger omission than either of our guys.
For seeding purposes, it would probably help us if Alaska and Northern Michigan both lost tomorrow. They're both TUCs right now, and neither one is helping us by being a TUC (since we were 1-1 against both of them).
For practical purposes I'd probably rather face a tired OSU/Alaska team than Miami, so it'd probably be beneficial to us in that regard if NMU won. (Plus, man, let Notre Dame deal with them.) I'm kind of torn on my rooting interests in the two remaining CCHA series.
One thing is perfectly clear to me, however: This Michigan team can win the national championship. They've got the offense, the defense, the goaltending, the coaching, the special teams, and the chemistry. They're peaking at the right time. They've got two fantastic lines. They're getting scoring from unlikely sources. And their captain--and arguably their best player--is getting more and more comfortable in the lineup (he was +4 tonight) after missing pretty much the entire season. No one has a duo like Palushaj and Caporusso, except maybe BU. I can't imagine there's a line in the country that's better at both ends of the ice than Hagelin-Rust-Palushaj. And I don't think anyone, except for maybe Notre Dame, can match the group of defensemen that Michigan has got. Then you can add in a goalie that may set the Michigan record for lowest goals against in a season (and is within striking distance of Sauer's save percentage record as well) and you've got a very dangerous team come tournament time. I love this time of year.