OXFORD – In a battle between the nation’s top two offenses and top two goalies, something had to give.
Judging from the 16 goals scored this weekend, the netminders broke first.
Trailing Michigan, 5-3, and at risk of being swept for the first time all season, No. 1 Miami (Ohio) stormed back to tie the game in just over three minutes Saturday night.
Though Miami had all the momentum in the final minutes, the second-ranked Wolverines held on for a tie and a critical conference point that, coupled with Bowling Green’s loss to Alaska, clinched a first-round bye in the CCHA playoffs.
“It was an exciting game for the crowd,” Michigan coach Red Berenson said. “I’m sure the goalies aren’t crazy about it when they give up that many goals.”
The hectic conclusion started with a quirk and ended with a flurry.
Wolverine goalie Billy Sauer came into the weekend with the nation’s second-best goals-against average and save percentage. After allowing two third-period goals in Friday night’s 4-2 win, Sauer was victimized twice again in the last 20 minutes Saturday. Even more frustrating for the junior netminder, one of the goals came after the puck appeared to hit the netting above the end glass.
“It hit the top of the glass and popped up,” Sauer said. “But I mean, who knows? I guess I have to see a replay for that.”
Instead of the whistle blowing, the puck caromed awkwardly into play, and bounced off the top of the net into the crease, where freshman Andy Miele had plenty to shoot at for his second goal of the game.
With just a one-goal lead, Michigan went on the defensive instead of continuing to press. It proved to be a costly adjustment.
Miami (17-4-1 CCHA, 25-4-1 overall) knotted the score at five when forward Jarod Palmer fed senior Nathan Davis with a cross-crease pass that left Sauer scrambling and Davis with an open net.
Miami goalie Jeff Zatkoff didn’t fare any better, and he couldn’t blame most of his goals on fluke bounces or particularly impressive set-ups.
On Friday night, Zatkoff gave up all four goals in a six-minute stretch. On Saturday, he gave up a goal in the first 63 seconds of each period.
Michigan (16-2-4, 23-3-4) took advantage of Zatkoff’s weak glove hand to light him up for nine goals in two games.
“We didn’t watch it on film,” said freshman Max Pacioretty, who had three goals on the weekend. “But as soon as we started scoring a couple goals on the glove side, the coaches started saying shoot glove, so it worked out pretty well for us.”
Pacioretty was just one-third of an extremely productive Michigan top line. Seniors Chad Kolark and Kevin Porter had a combined seven points on the weekend. Porter’s Saturday night goal made him the first Wolverine to score 25 goals in a season since Jeff Tambellini did it in 2002-03.
Zatkoff went into the weekend with a 1.50 goals-against average, and he came out with a 1.74. It was the first time this season the RedHawks allowed more than two goals in consecutive games.
For a No. 1 vs. No. 2, matchup the weekend more than lived up to the hype. It also gave Berenson a better sense of where his team stood after two lackluster weekends.
“There’s not much to choose between the teams,” Berenson said. “They have a great team, no question.”
Leading the RedHawks by one point in the CCHA standings with six games to play, Berenson’s team is pretty good, too.