ALLENTOWN, Penn. — With a spot in the Frozen Four on the line, and in spite of a ferocious third period Quinnipiac comeback, the Michigan hockey team prevailed.
In the regional final, it was Michigan (31-9-1 overall) who booked its ticket to Boston against the Bobcats (32-7-3) even after a shaky third period performance, winning 7-4.
The Wolverines’ first goal came 33 seconds into the game after a scramble in front of the net. Quinnipiac goaltender Yaniv Perets got low and protected his goal, but it wasn’t enough, as senior forward Nolan Moyle nabbed the puck and earned his side the early lead.
On a national stage, it was a senior, not one of the talented underclassmen, who got things rolling.
“They’re playing the right way,” Michigan coach Mel Pearson said. “That’s why they got rewarded. There’s a certain way we need to play as a team.”
Quinnipiac responded, deploying a strong forecheck against the Wolverines. But sophomore goaltender Erik Portillo held serve with 14 saves in the opening frame.
“This guy to my left,” Pearson said, looking at Portillo. “Kept them off the scoresheet in the first period, let us get our feet under us and build the lead.”
The scoring continued for Michigan when freshman defenseman Luke Hughes guided the puck to the right wing. Directing it to the back post, senior forward Jimmy Lambert saw the gap and tapped it in for the two goal advantage.
With time running out, the Wolverines looked for a third through junior forward Johnny Beecher. One-on-one with Peret, he went left to right but the goaltender stopped him in his path and kept the goal deficit to two.
The Bobcats defense couldn’t handle Michigan’s offense — even on Quinnipiac’s own powerplay. Looking to increase the Wolverines’ lead, senior defenseman Nick Blankenburg glided down the right wing and laid it across to senior forward Garrett Van Wyhe for the shorthanded goal.
But the Bobcats weren’t ready to give Michigan the clean sheet just yet. Defenseman Jayden Lee spun sophomore forward Matty Beniers and blasted a shot in off the post for his side’s first goal.
Quinnipiac added another halfway through the period. Stealing the puck off freshman forward Ethan Edwards, the Bobcats found forward Wyatt Bongiovanni in the center and put another past Portillo. After starting the period with a high goal differential, the Wolverines only led by two.
“Our third periods have not been good,” Pearson said. “That’s part of being a young team and learning how to finish games. You can’t recreate that in practice and that’s the hardest thing.”
Michigan’s lacking third period continued with congestion in front of the net and Quinnipiac added a third. After the Bobcats wrapped the puck around Michigan’s goal for its second in two minutes, it was anyone’s game.
For the Wolverines to advance, the message was clear:
“Play our game, play our game,” Pearson said. “We talked about pressuring them and suddenly we went into a shell of one to two forechecks. That’s not how we forecheck. We encouraged them to back our game.”
Quinnipiac kept its foot on the gas, controlling possession and shooting a flurry of shots on Portillo. But when the Bobcats pulled Perets for the man advantage, senior forward Michael Pastujov scored on the empty net and sealed the victory.
Moyle followed his lead, scoring another empty netter and made the game 6-3. The scoring wouldn’t stop when Quinnipiac earned a penalty for slashing. Sophomore forward Brendan Brisson pounced on the opportunity and increased the Wolverines’ lead to four.
After the game, Pearson poked at criticisms. It didn’t matter that his team nearly collapsed in the third period, or almost fell well short of their expectations as the No. 1 overall seed. Ultimately, Michigan had punched its ticket to the Frozen Four.
“Most of the media said, ‘They can’t do it and they’re too young,’ ” Pearson said. “But these guys have found a way to do it and they’re going to Boston.”