ALBANY – Michigan’s first line was just waiting for the NCAA Tournament.
After a CCHA tournament weekend where Michigan’s top three players made little impact on the scoreboard, senior Kevin Porter notched four goals and the line combined for 13 of the Wolverines’ 15 points to push Michigan past Niagara 5-1 in the first round of the NCAA East Regional at the Times Union Center.
“That first line is unbelievable,” Niagara coach Dave Burkholder said. “Those guys are going to be on TV for a long, long time. I don’t know how to stop them. We certainly didn’t have the answer tonight.”
Playing in front of a sparse, unenthusiastic crowd announced at 4,175, the Wolverines came out with an uncharacteristically sluggish first period. The Wolverines needed five minutes to tally its first shot on goal, and Niagara recorded four shots to Michigan’s two in the first seven minutes of the game. Michigan couldn’t connect on passes or set up plays, and Niagara’s defense stifled any activity in its offensive zone.
But the Purple Eagles’ shots lead – and momentum – was short-lived. Niagara didn’t record a single shot for over an entire period, while Michigan put up a 17-shot, two-goal and game-sealing run.
With 44.8 seconds remaining in the first period, freshman Max Pacioretty was tripped while skating between two Niagara players. Niagara forward Vince Rocco was sent to the penalty box for boarding, giving Michigan the man advantage heading into the second period.
And, like they have all season, the Wolverines made up for a poor period by scoring on the next stanza’s first shift. Just 55 seconds into the second period, Pacioretty notched the Wolverines’ first goal from just in front of the blue line after a pass from senior Chad Kolarik.
“We definitely wanted to get a couple quick goals on them,” Porter said. “The longer it stayed 0-0, the more confidence they were going to gain.”
Pacioretty’s goal set the tone for the rest of the offense-oriented middle stanza. Junior and CCHA Tournament MVP Tim Miller had a solid scoring opportunity near the net a few minutes later as he tried to jab it past Niagara goalie Juliano Pagliero multiple times off rebounds.
At the midway point of the period, Michigan’s first line combined to give the Wolverines a two-goal lead. Kolarik took the puck near the blue line and passed to Pacioretty. The freshman fed the puck to Porter near the net, who backhanded it past Pagliero.
With five minutes left in the period, it looked like the first line had struck again – but the referees disagreed. Kolarik almost converted on a wraparound shot, but the puck didn’t cross the goal line and, after reviewing the play, it was ruled a no goal.
After 60 minutes of play, Michigan was leading 28-9 in shots.
And it only became more lopsided in the third period.
Porter chipped in his second goal off a Pacioretty rebound almost nine minutes into the period. His third goal came just two minutes later off another pass from Kolarik, prompting a “Hobey Baker” chant from the Michigan hockey band that echoed through the mostly empty arena.
“Yeah, it’s about time he matches me,” Kolarik said, who has scored four goals in two games this season. “No, it’s unbelievable. I think this should solidify his spot for the Hobey.”
With 4:10 left in the game, Niagara got on the board for the first time. Senior co-captain Matt Caruana flicked the puck past Sauer on a wrister while skating front of the net, ending Sauer’s bid for a scoreless game in a goal reminiscent of Miami (Ohio)’s late-game shutout spoiler in last weekend’s 2-1 CCHA Tournament title game.
Niagara pulled its goalie with almost two and a half minutes left in the game. Pacioretty missed the chance for an empty-netter with two minutes left, but Porter easily chipped in an empty-netter 30 seconds later.
“I guess Kevin Porter’s not in a slump anymore,” Michigan coach Red Berenson said.
The Wolverines will face Clarkson University tomorrow night in the NCAA Regional championship game.