If the No. 15 Michigan hockey team thought it would get a breather after a fourth consecutive overtime game at Yost Ice Arena, it took less than ten minutes for it to realize that was a pipe dream, and 58 minutes for a win to become a pipe dream, too.
As the Gophers opened up a 2-0 lead, the Wolverines found themselves at an inflection point. Though Michigan was outshooting Minnesota early, the Wolverines failed to capitalize on any breakaways or opportunities in the crease early on.
While Michigan responded by pulling the rug out from underneath Minnesota, it was eventually the Gophers who got the final laugh, scoring a game-winner with 1:41 left in the game and walking out of Yost with a 4-3 win.
A minute into the first period, both teams were playing fast-paced, with largely crisp passing. Then, senior forward Brendan Warren intercepted a pass at the blueline and had a clear breakaway. But Warren got walled by Minnesota goaltender Mat Robson right at the crease.
And before the Wolverines could catch their breath, it was the Gophers that got on the scoreboard after a streaking Brannon McManus went five-hole on freshman goaltender Strauss Mann.
Mann seemed to redeem himself three minutes later with a contorting, cross-body save with his right pad, but the rebound wasn’t cleaned up. Instead, Minnesota found the puck right at the top of the crease with Mann’s back turned and found the back of the net once again.
“There’s a couple of shifts during the game where we seem like we’re all over the place in the zone,” said junior forward Nick Pastujov. “I think that’s where they get a lot of their chances.”
Then, 7:43 into the first period, freshman forward Nolan Moyle got a 2-on-0 breakaway opportunity with Pastujov, Michigan had another easy scoring opportunity. In Friday’s game, the game went to overtime because of the Wolverines’ inability to finish those point-blank shots, and the trend seemed to be continuing.
With a flick of the wrist though, Moyle passed it to Pastujov, who went forehand, then backhand and slotted the puck into the five-hole to give Michigan its first goal. Less than two minutes later, the Wolverines struck again from up close — as sophomore forward Michael Pastujov snaked around a scrum at the goal to equalize the game from behind the left post.
Though neither team scored for the next 16 minutes, the Wolverines found a rhythm offensively. After trading shots with Minnesota early on, Michigan went up 10 shots on the Gophers early in the second period. And by the end of it, the Wolverines eclipsed their per-game average of 35.9 with 40 shots and found themselves up 3-2 thanks to a screamer from sophomore forward Josh Norris that flew into the top right of the goal from the left circle. For the game, they doubled the Gophers with 98 shot attempts to their 49.
“We’ve outshot five of the last six games we’ve played in,” Norris said. We outshot them both times by a ton. It’s frustrating to not get a win after playing so well.”
But just as fast as Michigan seemed to be running away with the game, Minnesota created more chaos in the crease early in the third period. Though Mann again made a slew of saves in the shadow of Gophers defenders, Minnesota tied the score at 3-3 by again taking advantage of Michigan’s inability to clear the puck.
The Wolverines seemed to have the equalizer on a scrum led by junior forward Will Lockwood late in the third period, but the goal was waved off due to interference. With Michigan’s momentum gone, the Gophers barreled in a shot with less than two minutes remaining.
“We had what was it, 53 shots?,” Norris said. “I think we did a good job there, but we need to do a better job of getting guys in front of the net. We had an unfortunate call at the end that might have been goalie interference … but if we start to (get in front of the net), more pucks will come our way.”
It wasn’t another overtime, but it was a familiar dread for the Wolverines — another tight loss against another team it outplayed for the majority of the game.
“We’ve probably played well enough to win all these games,” said Michigan coach Mel Pearson. “Tonight more so than any of them.”