ANN ARBOR, Mich. — Despite jumping to a quick three goal lead in the first period, Michigan had to hold on to best a gritty Western Michigan comeback performance, 5-2, Friday night at Yost Arena in the opening game of the CCHA quarterfinal round of playoffs.
The Broncos grabbed two unanswered second period goals to announce their presence to Michigan and made the Wolverines battle to the games final minutes. Michigan added two late third period goals to ice the win.
Well, considering we were off for two weeks, we feel good that we were able to play at the tempo that we did and get the lead in the game in the first period, said Michigan head coach Red Berenson. It was a close hockey game. It became a playoff game. Im trying to tell our team to forget about the shot chart. It doesnt really matter. Its the scoreboard that matters.
The Wolverines played a game befitting a third-ranked team nationally, but certainly couldnt have anticipated that their 48 shot performance would be repelled so successfully by Western Michigan junior goaltender Riley Gill.
Gill personified the Broncos tenacity, turning aside 43 Michigan shots, many of them spectacular.
It keeps you in the game, said Gill of the shot barrage. It keeps you warm.
They were coming hard We kind of sat back a little bit in the first period and they were able to get that 3-0 lead, but we battled the rest of the game.
He’s played exceptionally well, said Western Michigan head Coach Jim Culhane of Gill. He’s been stellar for us. He’s done a great job for us and given us a chance to win hockey games.
Carl Hagelin led the Wolverine offensive charge with the game-winning goal, his fourth game-winner of the season. Hagelin also had an assist and an empty netter to seal the Wolverine victory.
It was a pretty big goal, said Hagelin of the shorthanded game-winner scored with just under two second left in the opening period. Rusty (Matt Rust) did all the work. It was an easy goal for me. He beat his guy on our blue line and had a two-on-one. He made an awesome pass over to me and I missed the first shot, but made sure I got the rebound in.
You have to win two (games), you know, said Culhane. We knew that coming in. We needed to adjust to the pace of the game. I think that was the difference from the first period to the second and the third. Michigan has outstanding foot speed. They got the jump on us there, 3-0, and it took us 20 minutes to play up to their pace.
Michigan showed little first period rust from their two-week hiatus from live play due to their opening round CCHA playoff bye.
The Wolverines jumped to their quick 3-0 lead after the opening frame on goals by Ben Winnett, Chad Langlais and a shorthanded Bronco back breaker Hagelin with only 1.3 seconds remaining in the period.
Although Western Michigan applied several solid hits to the Wolverines in the games opening shift, Winnett dented the scoreboard first for Michigan at 2:57 on a rebound from Brandon Nauratos shot to Gills right in the slot.
Salvaging a five on three power play advantage with only one second to spare, Langlais, waiting on the inner half of the faceoff circle to Gills right, blasted Aaron Palushajs feed from behind the goal line past the Bronco netminder at 7:08.
Hagelins last second score started with Matt Rust tipping the puck past Tyler Ludwig in the Michigan zone. Rust and Hagelin stormed down the ice two on one. Hagelins shot from in front of the net off Rusts pass just barely had enough momentum to trickle into the corner of the Bronco net.
Gill single-handedly held the Broncos in the game through the first ten minutes of the second period, stopping a storm of Wolverine offensive chances.
The Broncos took their cue from Gill in the second half of the second stanza, popping a pair of goals to jump right back into contention despite the wide 30-11 disparity in shots on goal.
A falling J.J. Crew flipped Kyle OKanes centering feed from the corner high over Hogans outstretched glove at 12:12 to start the turning of the games momentum.
OKane tightened the contest even further at 3-2 with his power play tally on a rebound off Hogans right leg pad off a Mike Levendusky shot from the point at 18:24.
Rust deflected a Palushaj shot past Gill deep into the third period to end finally end the Wolverines frustrations with Gills acrobatics and Hagelin completed the scoring with his empty netter.
The Broncos find themselves in the same position that they faced last weekend in their opening round sin against Lake Superior State, down one game and needing two straight wins to take the series.
We’re in the same spot as last weekend, Gill noted. It’s something we can look back on and build off of.
I thought, after we gave up those two goals, we realized it wasnt going to be easy the rest of the game or the series, said Palushaj.
The battle is resumes in game two Saturday night at Yost Arena.