It only takes one play to change a game.
Saturday night, the No. 14 Michigan hockey team (6-5-1 overall, 2-2-1 Big Ten) had two of them in regulation before it tied with Wisconsin (5-7-1, 1-3-1), 2-2, in double overtime and then fell in the shootout.
Late in the third period, facing a one-goal deficit, redshirt sophomore forward Luke Morgan received a pass from junior defenseman Luke Martin as he was crossing the offensive blue line, all alone in front of goaltender Daniel Lebedeff.
A little bit of stickwork and a quick shot later, and Morgan had notched his first goal of the year and tied the game at two.
“Good to see (Morgan) get off the mark there,” said Michigan coach Mel Pearson. “It’s just gonna help him and give him some confidence. … We’re gonna need that secondary scoring going forward. We’re getting guys to contribute now and we’re doing a good job. Good for (Morgan). That was a big goal.”
But despite Morgan’s heroics, eight minutes later, the game was still tied, and the Wolverines headed to their third straight overtime game.
Michigan sustained pressure on Lebedeff through most of the first overtime period but couldn’t knock the puck through. With 1:20 left in the stanza, senior defenseman Nick Boka was whistled for hooking. The penalty kill held strong, sending the game to double overtime and 3-on-3 action for the second night in a row.
Wisconsin had an extra skater to begin the second overtime period, but Michigan neutralized the man advantage. The five minutes of 3-on-3 came and went, and the game was still tied.
“You want to win them in regulation, but we’ll take it any way we can if we have to drag it to overtime,” Morgan said. “We have to come out with the win some way. It’s best in regulation, you don’t have to worry about it, it’s not as nerve wrecking at times, but we’ll take it any way we can.”
But on Saturday, the next step was a shootout for the extra Big Ten point — not a victory for either side. The game went down as a tie after the first overtime, meaning each team earned one point for conference standings. The shootout winner earned the second point.
Junior forward Will Lockwood went first in the shootout and his effort was just barely saved by Lebedeff. Next, Wisconsin forward Wyatt Kalynuk shot wide of the net.
Following Kalynuk, sophomore defenseman Quinn Hughes fired a shot that went well wide.
As the second shooter in the second round, forward Max Zimmer beat junior goaltender Hayden Lavigne five-hole, and the Badgers streamed onto the ice to celebrate.
Before it got to the shootout, or even scored a goal, Michigan was down by two and struggling to find a rhythm.
For the first time all season, Lavigne earned the starting nod on back-to-back nights. He came up with some big saves in the first five minutes, effectively neutralizing the constant pressure from the Badgers. But 4:21 into the first period, Hughes was called for slashing and the Wolverines were sent to the penalty kill for the first time in the game.
Less than a minute later, with Wisconsin pressuring Lavigne in the crease, Boka lost his footing and allowed his assignment — defenseman K’Andre Miller — to slip past him and tuck the puck past the outstretched glove of Lavigne. He got part of his glove on the puck, but it wasn’t enough to save the goal.
In the second period, Lavigne fell victim to another defensive breakdown. When Michigan’s defenders slipped out of position, forward Jack Gorniak was able to get his stick on the puck and flip it up over Lavigne’s shoulder.
Suddenly, the Wolverines trailed, 2-0. The game appeared to be slipping out of reach.
Shortly afterwards, Hughes entered the offensive zone with the puck and slipped it across the ice to sophomore forward Josh Norris. Norris found fellow sophomore forward Jack Becker coming down through the slot and put the puck right on his stick.
Becker tapped the puck past Lebedeff and cut the Wolverines’ deficit to 2-1.
But the two goals would prove to be not enough, after all the extra periods and the shootout. Michigan’s power play, which entered the weekend ranked seventh in the nation, failed to score on any of its seven chances. The Wolverines recorded just 12 shots across those seven opportunities.
“We’ve been riding our power play,” Pearson said. “It’s been really good for us lately. It’s been winning us a lot of games. Tonight, and this weekend, we just came up empty. I think that’s why we’re just looking at getting the three points and basically a split this weekend.”
Morgan’s late-game play gave Michigan hope momentarily, but the offense couldn’t overcome its woes and the late goal wasn’t enough to eke out a victory.