OMAHA — Junior defenseman Tristin Llewellyn was retreating as a gang of Nebraska-Omaha forwards skated up the ice. With the score tied 1-1 in the first period, junior Mavericks forward Joey Martin threw the puck across the ice attempting to find his open teammate. But Llewellyn slapped the pass with his stick and, as luck would have it, the puck beat junior goalie Bryan Hogan.

And as the Wolverines fell 4-3 on Friday and 4-1 on Saturday to Nebraska-Omaha, Llewellyn’s bad luck became telling of the rest of the weekend. Michigan missed a golden opportunity to improve its NCAA tournament chances by sweeping the series and staying in the top four in the conference standings. Now with just four games remaining, the Wolverines will face the daunting task of winning the CCHA tournament in order to extend their NCAA-record 19-straight NCAA tournament appearances.

And Michigan coach Red Berenson will be the first to tell you that hockey is a game of momentum. The Mavericks’ offense grabbed the game by the throat after a slow start on Friday and didn’t let up until they routed No. 19 Michigan (12-11-1-0 CCHA, 17-15-1 overall) the following night.

The first penalty Nebraska-Omaha took on Friday resulted in a patented Chris Brown deflected-shot-from-the-point goal. The Wolverines have propelled their offense by scoring first all season — Michigan was 15-2 when it scored first entering the weekend.

But, Michigan turned the puck over in the defensive zone which left Hogan out to dry, and resulted in a five-hole goal for the Mavericks.

“We gave them a life,” Berenson said. “With our mistake, our turnover gave them a life. And all of a sudden we’re on our heels and it’s a game of momentum and they took that momentum and we never really completely got it back.”

Nebraska-Omaha (12-11-3-2, 16-12-6) was relentless in its attack the entire weekend. Seemingly every Michigan turnover led to an odd-man rush, and the Maverick offensive pressure never let up.

“We got some good shifts,” junior forward Louie Caporusso said. “But good shifts aren’t going to cut it for a hockey game. They put another goal in, and now we’re chasing the game. And if we’re chasing the game, it’s never going to work.”

Michigan’s offense did have isolated success, but couldn’t sustain the attack on Friday or finish the few opportunities it had on Saturday.

“I think we came out pretty strong,” junior forward Carl Hagelin said after Saturday’s loss. “Then I don’t know what happened. They got that goal and then dominated for 10, 20 minutes or whatever. We came back, (but) we never got the momentum totally. We had one or two good shifts, then they had five (good) shifts.”

After Brown’s power-play goal to start the weekend, the Wolverines failed to convert on their next seven chances with the man advantage. Turnovers and a lack of momentum soured most of those opportunities. And none was bigger than when Michigan failed to score on a five-minute power play on Friday partly because the Wolverines took penalties to negate the chance.

With five minutes left in the game and facing just a one-goal deficit, the Wolverine offense couldn’t put together anything of substance.

And on top of the mistakes on both sides of the puck, Michigan played Saturday without senior defenseman and captain Chris Summers who was held out because he was dazed and possibly suffered a concussion in Friday’s loss.

It didn’t matter, though, for the Wolverines. Berenson said he thought his defense played hard without its captain out there. But with a little luck and a lot of chances, Nebraska-Omaha was able to score eight goals in two games.

“We made too many mistakes and they capitalized on them,” senior defenseman Steve Kampfer said. “That’s what killed us this weekend.”

Entering the series, Michigan was in fourth place in the CCHA standings and in control of its destiny to finish the season in the top four of the conference and secure a first-round bye in the conference tournament. Now, the Wolverines have slid to seventh place and have made their path to an at-large NCAA tournament bid that much more difficult.

And with just four games remaining in the regular season, the Wolverines have little room for error against Northern Michigan and Notre Dame if they are going to get back into that fourth slot. The Mavericks catapulted themselves into the spot with the sweep and now lead Michigan by four points in the standings.

The Wolverines have fought their way from behind in the standings before, but this past weekend’s sweep has Michigan reeling with time running out on the season. Once positive prospects have disappeared in the blink of an eye.

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