MADISON — There was an uncanny resemblance to the game as Luke Morgan converted a shorthanded breakaway to bring Michigan’s lead to two early in the second period.
Shades of Saturday’s matchup against Wisconsin started to show Sunday.
An offensive-zone domination in the first period that created breakaways, high-danger opportunities and eventually, a goal. A second spurt early in the second period that netted a second. But that’s where the likeness ends. Where the Michigan hockey team couldn’t hold onto the 2-0 lead the day prior — falling 3-2 — Sunday, it found all the right stops and made all the right plays to come out on top for its first Big Ten Conference win, 3-1.
“It wasn’t like yesterday where we kinda stepped back on our heels a bit,” said senior forward Will Lockwood. “We stayed up on our toes and kept that momentum going throughout the whole game.
The tone was set early when the Wolverines dominated the faceoff circle. Winning 20 of 26 faceoffs, they didn’t have to chase around the puck and instead created the opportunity to attack with a set offense. And they did.
“They have some pretty good guys that they like to run plays off the faceoff,” said senior forward Jake Slaker. “So it’s something we’ve been reiterating all week, we wanted to be strong in the circle because if you start off with possession of the puck, it’s better than chasing it.”
Just over two minutes into the first period, Michigan struck.
Luke Morgan had cut down the strong-side lane. The redshirt junior was a step above the trailing Badger defenders as they rush to cut off his drive to the net. But he wasn’t looking to score. He, instead, started to wrap around behind the net.
As he crossed the red line, he dished it center ice to Eric Ciccolini, camped right in front of the crease. With Wisconsin players to his left and right, the freshman forward couldn’t pass, but as he looked up, there was only one Badger player straight ahead — the goaltender, Daniel Lebedeff.
With a hard shot, Ciccolini put the puck between Lebedeff’s legs and into the back of the net, giving the Wolverines a payoff for their early offensive pressure.
It would be the only payoff of the period, however, as the Badgers responded halfway through the period, putting on a bombardment of shots to even the shot count, 16-15.
But unlike Saturday’s reception to Wisconsin’s response, Michigan refused to fold, tempering the storm until the horn signaled for the intermission to maintain the one-goal lead.
And much like the first period, the Wolverines came out hot with early offense — this time on the man disadvantage.
After senior defenseman Griffin Luce committed a holding call, the Badgers tried to take advantage but could only manage a shot that hit the post. The rebound, in correspondence, went wider than normal and Garrett Van Wyhe collected it. With a burst of speed, he exploited the fact that the Wisconsin skaters had pushed up to crash the crease and skated down the ice, with the only player remotely close to him being an ally, Morgan.
Van Wyhe drew away the goaltender’s eyes and at the last second, when there was no more ice to skate, he passed to Morgan, skating parallel to him. Lebedeff, having committed to Van Wyhe, left the net open for Morgan to convert a top-shelf goal.
“(Van Wyhe’s) speed is his biggest asset and he’s a smart PK player as well,” Lockwood said. “He knows when to anticipate a play, and jump on a loose puck and he did that really well tonight.”
The two-goal lead lasted until a quarter of the third period was left. Nick Granowicz got into a physical confrontation with a Badger after a check against the boards. After an initial headlock, Granowicz swung and, in turn, game Wisconsin a man advantage, which it converted to cut the deficit in half.
But likewise, just as Michigan committed a penalty to keep Wisconsin in the game, the Badgers committed on to take themselves out. Senior forward Nick Pastujov withstood a two-handed hit to the head that drew a five-minute penalty, one that would last the remainder of the game.
Saturday, Slaker had preached about none of the background stuff — the behind-the-scenes hard work, who’s playing better in a game — mattered. He stated the only thing that matters is the result — a win.
And as Slaker converted an empty-net goal to put the game out of reach, he made sure to secure that very thing.