DENVER — Despite a career-high 46 saves by goalie Alex Leclerc, the Denver Pioneers rallied for a 3-2 win over their arch-rival, the Colorado College Tigers, to force a game three in their first-round NCHC series. Troy Terry led the way for Denver with two goals, while Tanner Jaillet made 25 saves.
“There was a lot of emotion in the game, and I liked the way we played with emotion,” said Denver coach Jim Montgomery. “I didn’t think we got emotional. We could have, because it was a heated game, and also there were some calls that didn’t go our way, especially early, but we played a team game and I liked how hard we were and how resilient we were.”
CC had the first golden chance of the game when Dylan Gambrell was called for a five-minute major for boarding. Two minutes of that was negated by a CC penalty on Nick Halloran for tripping, but for the most part, Denver’s penalty kill did a good job of neutralizing CC’s top offensive guns on the three minutes of power play the Tigers did have.
Denver looked to have finally ended Leclerc’s shutout streak against Denver at 141:33 when Blake Hillman fired a one-timer slap shot past a screened Leclerc at 13:05, but the goal was called back when it was ruled Logan O’Connor had interfered with Leclerc. O’Connor appeared to have been pushed into Leclerc by CC defenseman Ben Israel.
“Our whole philosophy going into today was we wanted people to inspire each other, and we thought that goal was an inspirational goal because it was a hard goal, took away Leclerc’s eyes,” said Montgomery. “He’s been playing fantastic. We were just like so, let’s go back and get more.”
Denver had a couple of good chances on a late power play, and Leclerc robbed Jaako Heikkinen on a point-blank chance from the left side of the slot. That proved costly shortly afterward when Ian Mitchell misplayed a puck at the left point and allowed Trey Bradley to race up the ice on a breakaway. Bradley carried it in and cut to his left through the slot and around Jaillet, sliding it into the open net at 16:41. It was only CC’s second short-handed goal of the year.
Late in the period, a scrum in the Denver zone resulted in multiple penalties being called, including a five-minute major on Halloran for cross-checking that carried over into the second period. Denver finally solved Leclerc when Henrik Borgström rifled a shot top corner glove side from the right faceoff dot at 2:06 with 39 seconds still remaining on the five-minute major. The goal ended Leclerc’s shutout streak against Denver at 150:34.
“It was important for us to get the puck to Henrik Borgström,” said Montgomery. “It was important. You could tell that our power play doesn’t have confidence because guys were making passes when we had full possession. I think with the success that we had today that our power play will be better tomorrow night.”
CC regrouped however, and took advantage of a late power-play opportunity to retake the lead, as Kristian Blumenschein got the puck at the left point and made a nifty move to drive the lane and wrist a shot short side past Jaillet at 17:40.
At the other end, Leclerc continued to stand tall in the net, making 15 saves in the period.
“He was great again,” Tigers coach Mike Haviland said. “He gave us a chance, and that’s all you ask for your goalie to do. He has been outstanding.”
Denver tied it again at 2:17 of the third when Terry redirected it in off his skate. The play was reviewed, but on the replay it looked like CC’s Mason Bergh knocked the puck into Terry’s skate first. Terry immediately looked at the ref after the goal and pointed at Bergh. The goal came right after CC had called a timeout to try to regroup.
“I definitely put my foot out to try and stop the puck, and their player actually shot the puck off my skate and into the net, so I was trying to tell him (the ref) that I did put my skate out but their guy shot it off me,” said Terry. “When you get that many shots, we earned a goal. That goal was from a lot of hard work that was a long time coming.”
Terry then gave the Pioneers their first lead of the game and the final margin at 14:29 when he drove down the slot and sent a wrist shot that was deflected by CC’s Andrew Farny and in.
“I’m really proud of the guys,” said Terry. “We had our backs against the wall, so it’s what we were saying all night. It was our first challenge in the playoffs, and I think we played the same way we did last night, but we didn’t get frustrated. We kept going, and Borgström’s goal was pretty phenomenal.”