ALBANY – Two goals. Two finals games. Two gritty wins.
Exactly one week after Michigan’s 2-1 CCHA Tournament-clinching win over Miami (Ohio), the Wolverines scrapped out a 2-0 win against Clarkson in the East Regional at the Times Union Center to give Michigan its first trip to the Frozen Four since 2003.
Clarkson came out fighting from the opening faceoff, stealing the puck off the draw and firing it at Michigan goalie Billy Sauer less than five seconds into the game. And the Golden Knights scrapped their way through the first period, roughing up the Wolverines with an old-school, hard-hitting style of play.
“I don’t know what their feeling was, but I thought we battled them for 60 minutes tonight,” Clarkson coach George Roll said.
Michigan’s special teams were the difference in the first period. The penalty-killing unit stifled Clarkson’s power play by continually clearing the puck and denying the Golden Knights a legitimate scoring opportunity in three opportunities.
On the power play, freshman Aaron Palushaj put the Wolverines on the board for the first time with seven and a half minutes left in the first period. Displaying the crafty stickwork that has been his trademark all season, Palushaj scored on a flawless wraparound that left Clarkson goalie David Leggio confused and the net nearly wide open.
Both teams’ aggressive play escalated in the defense-dominated second period. The Wolverines took just four shots to Clarkson’s seven. While the teams only combined for four penalties, Michigan was outhit for most of the stanza.
Sauer was the star of the second period, keeping the Golden Knights scoreless while the Michigan offense looked lethargic. While shorthanded with nine minutes left in the period, Sauer jumped to deflect a point-blank Clarkson shot off his shoulder pads.
But just like last night, when they scored on the first shift after a lackluster period, the Wolverines lit the lamp 26 seconds into the third period. Porter scored his fifth goal of the weekend after taking a pass from freshman Max Pacioretty and backhanding the puck past Leggio.
“The next goal was obviously a backbreaking goal (for Clarkson),” Berenson said. “That really gave us the momentum we needed.”
The Wolverines had a chance to extend their two-goal cushion after having a 5-on-3 advantage for a minute and 13 seconds, but the only solid scoring opportunity was on a Pacioretty shot that deflected off Leggio’s pads.
With two minutes remaining in the game, Clarkson had an equal chance to make an impact on the scoreboard. After forward Carl Hagelin drew an interference penalty with 2:06 remaining, Clarkson pulled Leggio and the Golden Knights kept the puck almost exclusively in the Wolverines’ zone for the rest of the game.
But Sauer resisted the barrage of mostly low shots, and as the clock wound down on Michigan’s regional win, the Wolverines drew a faceoff in Clarkson’s zone that forced Leggio back on the ice with less than ten seconds remaining.
“We’re going to enjoy this when we get back, but right now, we’re pretty tired,” Kolarik said.
The last time Michigan recorded a shutout in the NCAA Tournament was in 1998, in a 4-0 win over New Hampshire.
Michigan will play the winner of tonight’s Notre Dame/Michigan State game on April 10 in Denver.
For more coverage of this weekend’s games, see SportsMonday.