DETROIT — Top-ranked Michigan scored four third-period goals to turn back resilient Northern Michigan, 6-4, in Friday night’s second CCHA championship tournament semifinal at Joe Louis Arena in Detroit.
Overcoming a two-period, 3-2 deficit, the Wolverines used two goals by Tim Miller, only his third and fourth of the season, in the final stanza, as well as Travis Turnbull’s second tally of the game, to eke past the Wildcats.
Northern Michigan came from behind to tie Michigan three different times, but Miller’s third-period heroics finally put the game away for the Wolverines.
“I always enjoy playing at Joe Louis,” Miller said. “I don’t know what it is, if it’s the atmosphere. Every time I come here I feel like I’m on top of my game.”
“It was a crazy game,” said Michigan coach Red Berenson. “If you look at the shots and you look at the score, you saw two different games.
“It was a tough game for [goaltender] Billy Sauer to play. He wasn’t getting a lot of shots.”
“There were two things we needed to do,” said Northern Michigan coach Walt Kyle. “I thought we were going to have to kill penalties well, which I thought the guys did a great job of, and I thought we were going to have to score when we got our opportunities.”
“We really wanted to get the puck down low to slow their game down,” said the Wildcats’ Matt Siddall. “They’re such a good hockey team and they play with such momentum. They just come at you in waves and waves.
“It’s tough to swallow. You put that team on the power play and you start pressing. They’re the top team in the country, the most explosive offense in the country.”
The Michigan victory sends the Wolverines to the championship tournament final on Saturday night against Miami, who beat Notre Dame in overtime in the night’s first game. Northern Michigan will meet the Fighting Irish in Saturday afternoon’s third-place game.
With NMU leading 3-2 at the start of the third, the Wolverines struck quickly, just over a minute into the final period, when Miller’s centering attempt to Chad Kolarik caromed off Wildcats’ defenseman T. J. Miller’s skate and past Northern Michigan netminder Brian Stewart.
Turnbull gave the Wolverines the lead at 6:30 in the third when he deflected Mark Mitera’s shot from the left point out of mid-air past Stewart.
Typifying the resolve they displayed all game, the Wildcats fought right back to knot the game at 4-4 when Jared Brown fired a pass from Siddall by Sauer.
With regulation time winding down, Miller potted the game winner, banking the puck off Wildcats’ defenseman Blake Cosgrove at 16:00.
The first period was a replay, in microcosm, of the two early February contests the teams played in Ann Arbor – solid goaltending from Stewart, a host of Michigan shots and a tie score.
The Wolverines jumped to an early 1-0 lead on Kolarik’s ninth career CCHA tourney goal at 7:19 of the first. Kolarik flew behind the Northern Michigan net off right wing, leaving a sprawling Stewart behind, and bounced his wrap-around attempt off the skate of Wildcats’ defenseman Erik Gustaffson.
Stewart’s handling of the barrage of Wolverines’ shots held his teammates in the period and Matt Butcher took advantage to tie the game up at 15:05.
Gregor Hanson broke down left wing toward the left corner and slipped a pass between Mitera’s legs to a trailing Butcher in the slot, who one-timed the tying shot past Sauer.
Late in the period, Northern Michigan’s Billy Smith gave Michigan defenseman Chris Summers just enough of a tap from behind to send Summers careening head- and shoulder-first into the end boards. The resulting five-minute major and game misconduct provided Michigan with a power-play chance to regain the lead, but Stewart stoned the pressing Wolverines during the man advantage.
On only six shots, NMU found the back of the net twice in the second period after an initial Michigan tally to take a 3-2 lead. To start the scoring in the second, Michigan junior forward Travis Turnbull converted a deflected shot by Louie Caporusso into a short-lived Michigan 2-1 lead at 9:31.
At 14:54, Wildcats’ freshman Mark Olver pushed Michigan’s Kevin Porter off the puck as Porter carried it back into his own zone. Olver picked up the loose puck, cut to the front of the net and slid the puck between Sauer’s legs to tie the score, 2-2.
Less than two minutes later, the Wildcats grabbed their first lead when Siddall took Nick Sirota’s drop pass and fired a shot from the left circle high over Sauer’s left shoulder into the upper corner of the net.