The Wolverines moved one step closer to keeping their NCAA streak alive this past weekend. The went into Kalamazoo, where the Broncos had lost only twice all season, and downed WMU by 4-3 and 5-1 scores.
It was the first time all season that WMU had given up 4+ goals in back-to-back games, just the second time all season they had given up 3+ goals in back-to-back games, and, incredibly, just the second time since November they had given up even two-or-more in consecutive games.
They advanced to the CCHA semifinals thanks to a 100% team effort. Steve Racine provided great goaltending (even in giving up 3 on Friday night, he couldn't really be faulted for any of the goals). Outside of a couple of blips on Friday the defense was outstanding. The offense lit up one of the nation's best in Frank Slubowski, chasing him on Saturday. The power play scored in both games and was 2-for-7 on the weekend. The PK was a perfect 9-for-9. It doesn't get a whole lot more well-rounded than that.
Michigan was able to turn Friday night's tilt into an up-and-down the ice kind of game, which is the style they traditionally have liked to play. PDG gave the Wolverines a 1-0 lead on a nifty pass from Kevin Lynch. Lynch carried the puck in deep and threaded the needle between two Broncos to give PDG a great opportunity and he buried it.
Justin Selman, who may have played the best hockey of his Michigan career this weekend, added a goal before intermission. Hyman made a nifty play to get the puck to Selman in traffic in the Michigan zone and Selman rushed it up ice. With Hyman driving the net, Selman got off a great shot that Slubowski stopped, but he left a juicy rebound. Selman jumped on it and was able to tuck it into the net.
Western didn't roll over, though. Two goals in just over a minute tied the game back up and both were the result of Michigan turnovers. After Serville and DeBlois failed to get the puck out of the zone, Szuma had to step up on Walters. That left Chase Balisy all alone in front of the net, as Copp had broken out of the zone when it looked like Michigan would clear. That's not the guy you want to give a lot of room to, and he made Michigan pay.
Moffatt then couldn't handle the puck in the neutral zone and WMU came back the other way. Hargrove wristed one past Racine on a two-on-one to even the game.
Michigan would respond three minutes later on an NHL-type play by Jacob Trouba. He picked up the puck on Michigan's side of center ice, beat one guy to gain the zone and then wound up for a slapshot. He froze the defenseman and Slubowski with the threat of a bomb, pulled it down, and lasered a wrist shot past both of them before they could move. It really isn't fair for a kid to have that kind of a slapshot only to have that kind of release and speed on a wrister as well.
Western came right back again, however. They got the puck back to Morrison at the point who flipped a shot on cage through a heavy screen that was deflected a couple of times on the way through. There was absolutely no chance for Racine to stop that one.
With Michigan on the power play in the third period, Trouba got the game-winner. He brought the puck from the left point over into the middle of the ice. Western Michigan got crossed up with who was supposed to be covering him and Trouba made them pay by bombing a shot through Slubowski. In the screen shot below, the WMU player between the top of the circles had shaded to the middle of the ice. The player nearest the blueline stopped moving to his left and was trying to pass Trouba off. You can see him pointing. That moment was all it took as Trouba was able to bring the puck to the top of the circle before uncorking one.
You can see the confidence that Red Berenson has in his young players, because which forwards were out there with less than two minutes to go in a one goal game? Sinelli, Hyman, Selman, Copp, etc.
Darren Eliot said something early in the game that I thought was interesting. He said that when he had seen the Wolverines before, he thought that their players were using the poor goaltending as an excuse not to work hard. Now that their goalie is stopping shots, the team's confidence in him has gone up, and they're all playing better. I don't know if that was the case, but I can tell you even from playing at the extremely low level of hockey that I play at, it's really deflating to work your butt off to get back into a game and then have a soft goal go in. Or to come out ready to play and find yourself down on a couple of soft goals. I'm an extremely competitive person and I hate losing more than I like winning. And I'm not going to say I've always skated my butt off in situations like that. I think there could potentially be something to that.
On Saturday Michigan finished the job without any drama. They took a 1-0 lead on another big goal by Kevin Lynch. Jon Merrill found him with an absolutely threaded pass from his own zone to the far blueline. Lynch broke in and snapped one past Slubowski.
Late in the period Michigan turned it over in their own end and Hargrove was able to put one through a screen to tie the game. Michigan outshot WMU 15-3 in the first period, but came out of it all tied up. Nieves had been absolutely robbed by Slubowski a couple of minutes before that.
In the second, though, the Wolverines left no doubt as to who was going to the Joe. They put four pucks past the WMU goaltenders, the third of which chased Slubowski from the game. Moffatt fed Treais, who took a shot from a really bad angle that Slubowski stopped. The WMU keeper was way out of position after making the save and was slow to get back into his net. Treais was able to corral the rebound and slide it back to Sinelli who put one into an empty net.
Guptill nearly made it 3-1 moments later as Trouba absolutely walked a Bronco and fed him in the slot. Slubowski made a big save. Guptill would have the last laugh, though. Moments after Slubowski robbed Lynch on another Trouba feed, the big defenseman got it to Moffatt who fed Copp in front. The puck bounced back into the slot and Guptill put it in through some traffic. Less than a minute later, the season would end for The Big Slubowski. PDG skated through seemingly the entire WMU team. His shot was stopped, but the rebound sat right in front of the net. A Bronco failed to clear and DeBlois was able to knock it home.
Different goalie, same result. Moffatt found Guptill with a nice pass, Guptill spun and beat Hafner. That was Moffatt's third assist of the period. WMU would outshoot Michigan 9-3 in the third period, including a couple of stretches in the middle of the period when they pulled their goalie while on the power play, but they weren't able to solve Racine, who is playing with all the confidence in the world.
Think that team is having fun? At the end of the highlight video, Lee Moffie comes into the celebration and yells out joyfully, "WE'RE GOING TO RICK'S!!!!!!"
Want a great stat? The Michigan PK is 41 of 42 in the third period this year.
Michigan will now take on Miami in the semifinals, just as they did back in 2010 when they were in a win-or-go-home situation. The RedHawks are another great defense (#2, just .03 behind Quinnipiac), mediocre offense (#37). They do have Ryan McKay in net, however. He has a 1.20 goals against average and a .954 save percentage. More on Miami a little later this week. Should Michigan advance, they'll play the winner of OSU and Notre Dame for the CCHA Championship and the coveted automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament.
With that win, Michigan heads to the Joe for the 24th consecutive season. That makes for 21 straight senior classes that made it to the Joe all four years. Impressed, Rico?
Alex Guptill now has points in 9 straight (including seven multi-point games) and has matched the 33 points he scored as a freshman. Since Ohio State weekend when Michigan's hot streak started, no player in the nation has more points than Alex Guptill. PDG has 14 points in his last 12. Trouba is one goal away from tying the Michigan freshman defenseman record of 13, and is in striking distance of Jack Johnson's freshman points record. Since Racine retook the goaltending duties, he is 7-0-1 with a 1.98 goals against and a .919 save percentage.
In other CCHA news, it appears the Red Wings are close to signing goaltender Jared Coreau to a contract. Love that signing if it happens. Big goalie, who was outstanding for the Wildcats. He was a big reason I (incorrectly) picked them to finish high up in the standings than most. Nice to see them dipping into the college free agent waters.