KALAMAZOO -The Michigan hockey players hung their heads as they left the ice Saturday. Just outside the lockerroom, coach Red Berenson talked about several third-period defensive lapses that had cost his team a win. It’s a conversation that’s been replayed a number of times this season.

In five of the Wolverines’ six losses this year, they have been tied or held a lead entering the third period. Twice, including Saturday night’s 4-3 stunner, they have seen a two-goal lead evaporate late in the game.

In the second game against Western Michigan this weekend, Michigan held a 3-1 lead with 16:58 remaining. But after a pair of goals by Vince Bellissimo and a scrappy tally in front of the net by Broncos captain Dana Lattery, the Wolverines were left with a frustratingly familiar taste in their mouths.

“We had chances to really take them out of the game and we really didn’t convert,” Berenson said. “Sooner or later, the home team is going to get going, you just hope time runs out before they do.”

All Michigan players were unavailable for comment after the game.

While it was a disappointing loss for the Wolverines, it was not the fastest they have seen a sizeable lead disappear this season. In just their second regular-season contest of the year, the Wolverines held a two-goal lead against then-No. 13 North Dakota with 4:58 remaining. But the Fighting Sioux scored twice in the last few minutes of regulation and added a backhander past Michigan goalie Al Montoya in overtime to win it.

Freshman Jeff Tambellini said after that game that the Wolverines had become overconfident and had lost focus in the defensive zone.

Sophomore Milan Gajic made a similar assessment after three third-period goals by Notre Dame buried Michigan Nov. 23. He said that the Wolverines had been unable to match the Fighting Irish’s intensity in the loss.

Against Boston University in the championship game of the Great Lakes Invitational Dec. 29, the Wolverines had suffered another lapse. Sophomore David Moss put the Wolverines ahead 3-2 at 1:24 of the final stanza. But the Terriers scored three times down the stretch and won the tournament.

Even in their win last Saturday over Miami, the Wolverines had trouble protecting the lead. Two goals in the second period gave Michigan a 2-1 edge heading into the third. But Miami’s Matt Medvecz corralled a loose puck at center ice and wristed it past Montoya on a partial breakaway to force overtime. Tambellini saved the weekend with a slapshot from the blueline for a 3-2 win.

“I think we held back in the offensive zone,” Tambellini said after that game. “After losing the game to BU, I think we’re a little tentative with the lead. And I think, next game we got to make sure we put a little more pressure on them and not just being happy with a one-goal lead, and try to give it to them a little more.”

But Saturday night, Berenson had a different view of the team’s third-period struggles.

“This is about playing better defensively. This isn’t about how many goals we score,” Berenson said. “We had a lead, we had enough goals, and then we give up three goals. There’s no way. Can’t happen.”

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