A two-goal lead is the worst lead in hockey.
It’s an old saying in the sport, but for the Michigan hockey team, Monday night’s crushing 3-2 overtime loss proved it’s one that still holds true.
Through 40 minutes of action, the Wolverines looked well on their way to the Big Ten Tournament championship game. They scored an early goal, forced Minnesota to chase the game and held a commanding 2-0 lead.
But that two-goal lead turned out to be a detriment. Getting a second goal can cause a team to ease up defensively and try to coast their way to the finish. Michigan had its eyes on that finish line, but Minnesota thought differently.
“Anytime you give up a goal, it gives the team who scores some life and energy and they fed off of that,” Michigan coach Mel Pearson said. “(They) got a bad break, a bad bounce and scored that second goal and, from that point on, it’s anybody’s game.”
The Wolverines gave up an early third period goal as the puck found its way through the five hole of junior goalie Strauss Mann. The margin for error tightened and suddenly, Minnesota had momentum after finding itself on life support just moments earlier.
Michigan now clung to a one-goal lead but responded with a flurry of chances to push the lead back to two — including a breakaway attempt from freshman forward Thomas Bordeleau. But as time dwindled down, it was the Golden Gophers who had the momentum.
“We had a couple of real good looks to expand the lead to 3-1 and we couldn’t,” Pearson said. “(Minnesota) kept hanging around.”
With five minutes to go, a wrist shot from Minnesota forward Sampo Ranta took an awkward bounce and found its way past Mann again, tying the game at two.
“I think they were two pretty weird goals,” junior defenseman Nick Blankenburg said. “We have Strauss’s back. Sometimes you just have those nights.”
The once-secure two goal lead had evaporated. The goals may not have been textbook or flashy, but nonetheless, Michigan had taken its foot off the gas and allowed the Golden Gophers to generate a majority of the chances in the final minutes. The game had completely flipped.
Even if it took overtime, it felt like it was only a matter of time until Minnesota was going to win the contest.
The overtime period proved that to be a correct assumption. The Golden Gophers dominated possession and just six minutes in, Minnesota forward Sammy Walker buried a rebound attempt to complete the comeback.
Monday’s stunning defeat represented a major missed opportunity for Michigan. As they entered the third period up 2-0, it appeared the Wolverines had done everything they needed to do to propel themselves to the title game — and more importantly have a shot at an automatic bid.
But instead, they stumbled and the old adage about two goal leads remained true.
Prior to this game, Michigan was 12-0 in games when it got the first goal. Getting out to fast starts has been a point of emphasis for the team all year. But against a talented team like the Golden Gophers, taking care of that lead turned out to be a lot more difficult.
Michigan will still likely make the NCAA Tournament regardless of this result. But now, the Wolverines will have to wait until Sunday to hear their postseason fate.
“I don’t think this is their last game,” Pearson said. “But you never know.”
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