Just over two minutes into the first period of Friday night”s game against Alaska-Fairbanks, Michigan goalie Josh Blackburn was unable to make a save on a 2-on-1 break for the Nanooks. Fortunately for Blackburn, the shot rang off the crossbar, preserving a scoreless tie.
From then on, Blackburn was unflappable, turning aside 22 shots and seven powerplay opportunities as the Wolverines smothered Alaska-Fairbanks 7-0, despite numerous odd-man rushes for the Nanooks.
Blackburn”s shutout tied him with former Michigan goalie Marty Turco for the school”s career shutout record at 11. Turco, who attended Friday night”s game with several Dallas Stars teammates, knows the pressures of being a senior goaltender at Michigan.
“Josh is such a tremendous athlete he”s got such a great warrior-like attitude when he gets out there and all he wants to do is help his team win,” Turco said. “I think we”re going to see something special from him and he”s made a pretty good legacy for himself. Hopefully it”s going to be re-established in the second half of his senior year.”
Blackburn”s Friday night performance was highlighted by a sprawling save on another Alaska-Fairbanks 2-on-1 with nine minutes left in the first period. Then, in the early moments of the second period, Blackburn made two point-blank saves on a Nanooks” powerplay with the Wolverines protecting a 2-0 lead.
Stopping the Nanooks” offense is not out of the ordinary for Blackburn, with three of his career shutouts coming against Alaska-Fairbanks.
“I”ve had good success against them,” said Blackburn after Friday”s victory. “I think tonight I was just really focused and I followed the puck well.”
Said Michigan coach Red Berenson: “Blackburn earned this shutout and he earned it in the early parts of the game and then at different points throughout the game.”
Saturday night was more of the same as the senior netminder was one of the few bright spots for Michigan, stopping 25 Alaska-Fairbanks shots in a 3-1 loss.
In a weekend that ended with a disappointing split, Blackburn was a standout for the Wolverines.
“He played unbelievable,” forward Milan Gajic said. “(Friday”s game) wouldn”t have been 7-0, but the first part of the game he kept us in it. And he played great (Saturday night), too. But you can”t expect a goalie to have two back-to-back shutouts we”ve got to come out and help him too.”
Blackburn, although plagued with inconsistency at times, had been good enough in CCHA play to spur the Wolverines to a 9-0-2 streak prior to Saturday”s loss. He has also been one of the main reasons Michigan currently has a streak of 25 straight penalty kills.
In Saturday”s game, the Nanooks finally broke through against Blackburn with 3:07 remaining in the first period when a wide-open Tom Herman deposited a Jared Sylvestre pass into the net. The goal marked the first tally against Blackburn since Notre Dame”s Michael Chin beat him 1:06 into Michigan”s 2-1 win over Notre Dame on Jan. 5, a length of 135:07 in game time.
But the Wolverines” inability to carry their momentum from Friday”s blowout win over to Saturday night was too much for even Blackburn”s stellar performance to overcome.
“(Friday night) we didn”t play that well, and they didn”t play that poorly but the puck went in for us at the right time. Blackburn stood on his head,” Berenson said. “Blackburn, again, played a solid game (Saturday). He gave us a chance to win this game.”