MARQUETTE — It took the Michigan hockey team 81 minutes before it recorded its first goal this weekend.
It then scored two in less than a minute.
After sophomore Matt Rust opened the scoring in Saturday’s 5-3 Michigan win, the Wolverine playmakers, led by their top line, started to wake up.
“(Getting the first goal) shouldn’t be a factor but it had to be a factor,” Michigan coach Red Berenson said. “The first goal (Friday) night hung on to be the winning goal.”
Sophomore Aaron Palushaj had the puck behind the net and made a backhanded pass to a streaking Rust, who buried the puck past Wildcat goaltender Brian Stewart for the Wolverines’ first goal of the series.
After Rust’s goal, the floodgates burst open. Michigan’s top line connected for two more goals on Stewart, another by Rust and one from Palushaj.
Michigan was stifled by the Northern Michigan defense in Friday’s 2-0 loss, which didn’t give sophomore forwards Palushaj, Rust and Carl Hagelin any room to operate.
Saturday, the trio bounced back, combining for 10 points. The star of the game was Rust, who scored two goals. Hagelin and Palushaj assisted on both of them.
“(We played better), not just because we got three goals,” Palushaj said. “We were backchecking well, we played good defensively and scored a couple goals.”
Palushaj also assisted on the Louie Caporusso empty netter to ice the 5-3 win.
Each of Michigan’s lines struggled to find room to operate Friday, but it was particularly evident with the top line.
Northern Michigan stuck to its assignments and played physical down low, using pressure to limit Michigan’s chances to pass the puck.
“My line in particular didn’t really have a stellar game,” Rust said. “We really didn’t get a five-on-five play going, just scrambling down. That’s what you expect on the road, you don’t expect to have a pretty game, but not acceptable.”
But Saturday, the line found its rhythm, especially after its first goal.
Goal or no goal: With 34.5 seconds remaining in Friday’s game, Michigan found itself on the short end of a close call. The Wolverines were on the power play trailing 1-0 and had a 6-on-4 advantage with goalie Billy Sauer pulled for an extra attacker.
Sophomore Chad Langlais took a shot from the blue line, which was deflected by Rust. After the puck deflected off the goalie, senior Travis Turnbull knocked it in and appeared to have scored the game-tying goal.
But after reviewing the play the referees determined the play had been whistled dead before the puck crossed the goal line.
“The ref’s explanation was he blew the whistle down and in the video he doesn’t have a clear view when the puck went in,” Rust said.
The sophomore stayed on the ice after the game to get an explanation long after the ice cleared.
Northern Michigan killed off the remainder of the game, adding an empty-netter with two seconds remaining.
Coming up empty: Michigan’s power play is struggling. Besides a Brian Lebler goal with two seconds remaining against St. Lawrence two Saturday’s ago, the Wolverines have not connected on the man advantage, going 1-for-32 this season.
The power-play did a better job this weekend keeping control of the puck in the offensive zone and making crisper passes. But the Wildcats played stifling defense down low, cutting out passing lanes in front of Stewart.
“The power play has to capitalize,” Berenson said. “We had our power-play opportunities, but we didn’t take advantage of them.”