OMAHA, Neb. — With several goals coming mere moments apart Saturday at CenturyLink Center, the game between Nebraska-Omaha and No. 2 Michigan always felt like a last-goal-wins sort of affair.
That’s exactly what happened in the end.
Although UNO forced the game into a 3-3 deadlock at 13:03 of the third period, a goal from Wolverines’ forward Derek DeBlois 50 seconds later put the visitors up 4-3, a scoreline that held up through to the final horn.
After salvaging a split of this weekend’s series, Michigan, which doesn’t open Big Ten play until the end of this month, saw its record climb to 7-2-1.
The Mavericks, who are 3-1-0 so far in the NCHC, fell back to .500 at 6-6-0.
Michigan was outshot 43-31 in the game, but having seen his team pick up both a power-play goal and a shorthanded one Saturday, plus other timely tallies, coach Red Berenson felt his team was fortunate to come away with the win.
“No matter who plays, anything can happen and either team can win, no matter what the score, [and] I felt lucky,” Berenson said. “Our power play scored for us, we scored a shorthanded goal, and when you score a shorthanded goal, you can easily win the game, but they came back and it was anyone’s game again and we got lucky.”
After a relatively uneventful first period, Michigan opened the scoring 54 seconds into the second period with the Wolverines’ third power-play goal of the weekend. Andrew Copp did the honors by burying the rebound from a Cristoval Nieves shot past UNO goaltender Reed Peters.
Michigan then doubled its lead not even two minutes later. This one was a power-play goal, with Wolverines’ forward Phil Di Giuseppe racing into the UNO zone down the right wing, cutting in, making Peters make the first move and then deking around the helpless Mavericks’ goalie at 2:43.
UNO forward James Polk pulled a goal back at 5:13 of the same period after tucking a shot under Michigan netminder Steve Racine along the goal line.
Michigan’s two-goal lead was soon restored, though, when the Wolverines netted their first shorthanded goal of the season.
Although Copp was in the box for a hooking call, the visitors kept an opportunistic view offensively. That paid off when freshman J.T. Compher raced into UNO’s zone on a breakaway and beat Peters to the goalie’s near-side post at 13:39 of the second period.
It was Compher’s second goal of the weekend and of this season.
Michigan’s second two-goal lead only lasted 54 seconds though, as UNO defenseman Brian O’Rourke netted his first goal of the season at 14:09.
That left the hosts still down a goal, but a power-play goal from Brock Montpetit at 13:03 of the third period tied the game at 3-3. The UNO forward’s sixth goal of the season came on the power play when Montpetit backhanded the rebound from a Jake Guentzel shot past Racine at the goalie’s stick-hand post.
Another quick-response goal was coming though, as DeBlois netted his second goal of the season 50 seconds after Montpetit’s tally.
Peters got his glove to an initial shot from Wolverines’ defenseman Nolan De Jong, but when Peters couldn’t squeeze his mitt around the puck, DeBlois was there at the near-side post to put away the rebound for his second goal of the season and the game-winner.
Berenson felt DeBlois, who was whistled down for an interference call ahead of Montpetit’s power-play marker, had recovered well from that and deserved to net the winner.
“I’d say it was fitting Derek DeBlois scored the winning goal because he took the penalty on their tying goal, a power-play goal, so it’s fitting he was able to make up for it, and Racine came in and gave us a strong game,” Berenson said.
Racine finished his first game for the Wolverines since Oct. 18 with 40 saves, including an eye-popping 21 in the third period. He had been on the shelf with a groin injury.
UNO coach Dean Blais said after the game he thought that while his team worked hard, it didn’t match the passion it showed the night before.
“The effort was there,” Blais said. “I don’t think we had the same fire in our belly as last night. I don’t think it was [not having a second consecutive game on] national TV. I think it was Michigan and we were ready to play them.
“Then after you beat them, there’s a tendency to be not as intense – that’s why there’s so many splits. It’s hard to get mentally two games in a row. Even though it’s important, it’s not as important as your conference games.”
UNO returns to NCHC play next weekend as it welcomes eighth-ranked Miami for the Mavericks’ final two games of a six-game homestand. Michigan is at home next week for one game, a Friday tilt against Niagara.