DETROIT — They weren’t playing with desperation, said Red Berenson, but they were playing with urgency.
With two goals from Kevin Lynch and a smothering defensive effort that limited the Miami offense to 22 shots, the Michigan Wolverines upset No. 2 Miami to play their way into the CCHA championship game — and their only chance to appear in the NCAA tournament.
“We know it’s just a game, but we know it’s a big game,” said Berenson, the Wolverine coach. “This is our keynote game for the whole season if you look back. No matter what we did before, all that matters is what we do right now.”
The Wolverines had a two-goal lead by the six-minute mark in the second period. Miami’s Tommy Wingels cut that in half with his goal at 16:55 in the second to make it 2-1 after two.
But Michigan scored three unanswered in the first eight minutes of the third to take a 5-1 lead. Miami scored again on the power play late in the stanza, but from UM’s fourth goal on — Brian Lebler’s five-hole tip-in of Matt Rust’s initial shot — there was a sense that Michigan couldn’t lose Friday.
“You don’t know that you’re going to score goals,” said Berenson. “You’ve got a one-goal lead going into the third period, and we talked about if we had a one-goal lead for the whole game, that’s fine, but we were going to go out to win the period.
“As it turned out, we got the first goal [in the third] and then we got some momentum. We got another one, and it turned out to be a good period for us. We wanted to win the period, but we were comfortable playing with the lead.”
“You’ve got to give Michigan credit,” said Miami coach Enrico Blasi. “One or the other was going to happen tonight: We were either going to play our game and dictate the way it was going to be played, or Michigan was going to dictate the way it was going to be played. Obviously, you guys know what happened.”
The Wolverines got big games from some previously quiet players. Tristan Llewellyn’s goal at 8:50 of the first was his second of the season. Lee Moffie’s at 5:13 in the second was his fourth. Lynch’s two markers were his fourth and fifth of the year.
And junior goaltender Shawn Hunwick, in his sixth career start, stopped 20 shots, allowing just the two Miami power-play goals. In fact, since stepping in for the injured Brian Hogan in the first period of Michigan’s 4-0 win over Notre Dame Feb. 25, Hunwick has not allowed a five-on-five goal.
Berenson said that his team is coming together at the right time. “I think we are playing better now as a team, whether it’s defensively, offensively, special teams, work ethic, faceoffs, you name it. We’re taking care of business and doing a lot of the little things better, and there just seems to be a better chemistry on our team than there was earlier in the year.”
Carl Hagelin — who began the plays that ended with Lynch’s goals, both on the fly with Matt Rust in the mix — said that the Wolverines have renewed commitment. “It’s more that we have the will to block shots and win battles against the other team. Our D is playing terrific, and so is our goaltender.”
After finishing seventh in the CCHA standings, the Wolverines had to play a first-round home series and then a second-round series on the road against a rested Michigan State last weekend. With this win, Michigan has won five in a row and is one win away from making it into the NCAA tournament for the 20th straight season, something that seemed unimaginable in January.
“This is a game we had to have, obviously,” said Berenson. “They’re [Miami] in the tournament and we have to earn our way into the tournament.”
The win pits the Wolverines (24-17-1) against Northern Michigan (20-11-8) in Saturday’s title game at 7:35 p.m. EDT. The Wildcats are assured a bid to the NCAA tournament.
Miami (26-7-7) is also a tournament lock and will face Ferris State (21-12-6) in Saturday’s third-place game at 3:35 p.m. “Things happen for a reason,” said Blasi. “You’ve got to learn from it. We’ve got a game to play tomorrow and some games to play next weekend.”