ANN ARBOR, Mich. — Same teams. Same start.Very different finish.
Michigan jumped to an early 2-0 first period lead in the second game of their CCHA quarterfinal series with Nebraska Omaha, but unlike the previous night’s game, the Wolverines didn’t cruise to an easy victory.
The Mavericks staged a stirring comeback over the final two periods, but couldn’t solve Michigan goaltender Billy Sauer one last time, falling to a season-ending 2-1 loss at Yost Ice Arena Saturday night.
The win vaulted Michigan into the CCHA semifinals next Friday night at Joe Louis Arena in Detroit, marking the 19th straight season the Wolverines have advanced to the conference semifinal round.
“We knew that the first goal would be important and to get a two-goal lead was important,” said Michigan coach Red Berenson. “But, they (UNO) never gave up. They came back and played with a lot more bite in their game and they had us on our heels.
“You knew that we may not play as well (as we did last night), and that is pretty much what you saw.”
“Our guys finally stopped being in awe,” said Nebraska Omaha coach Mike Kemp. “Last night, we were in awe of the environment and of the team. Tonight again, we saw them score that first one, but I thought we settled it down. Then, we decided that it was time to start taking the game over.
“The game was kind of a microcosm of our season. We had a slow start, gained momentum over the course of the middle stanza, then played toe-to-toe in third and really had a lot of chances to even it up, but just couldn’t get the equalizer.”
Both goaltenders, Sauer and Nebraska Omaha’s Jerad Kaufmann, turned aside numerous quality scoring chances. Sauer blocked 18 Mavericks’ shots while Kaufmann made 22 saves, none bigger than his point blank save on Michigan’s Carl Hagelin six minutes into the final stanza.
“Billy had to come up big,” offered Berenson on Sauer’s performance. “It was not an easy weekend for a goalie. I thought he was definitely a factor. When you only give up one goal against, you are in all the games. We got the goals we needed, and he gave us the goaltending we needed.”
Mirroring the opening contest of the series, Michigan jumped out to a quick lead on Brandon Naurato’s second goal of the series and added a late score from Carl Hagelin to take lead 2-0 after 20 minutes.
Naurato drove down the right wing and faked a move across the front of the net, pulling Kaufmann off the post just enough to leave room for him to tuck the puck behind the Mavericks’ goaltender on the short side at 3:14.
Hagelin scored his second highlight reel style goal in two nights with just over a minute left in the period. The Wolverines freshman forward skated down the left side diagonally across the ice and, cradling the puck on his backhand, flipped a shot between Kaufmann’s legs at 18:57.
Despite allowing the two Michigan goals, Kaufmann kept the Mavericks in the game with several spectacular saves among the 15 he recorded in the opening period.
The flow of the game changed in the direction of Nebraska Omaha early in the second period when the Mavericks spent significant minutes on the power play, finally connecting on a two-on-one play when Dan Charleston converted J.J. Koehler’s pass at 5:25.
Momentum further swung in the Mavericks’ direction due to a physical melee only a minute after Charleston’s goal. Michigan’s Max Pacioretty and Nebraska Omaha’s Nick Von Bokern were both ejected from the contest with fighting and game disqualification penalties among the eleven penalties resulting from the physical confrontation.
Both teams had chances to score in the tense, hard-fought final period, but neither could connect.