OMAHA – The Wolverines rallied to win twice this weekend.
But without losing leads in the second period of both games, they wouldn’t have had to come back in the first place.
Despite being outshot 29-10 and allowing four of Nebraska-Omaha’s five goals in the middle frames combined, No. 3 Michigan extended its win streak to six games by defeating Nebraska-Omaha 6-3 on Friday and 3-2 on Saturday at the Qwest Center.
Michigan (4-0 CCHA, 7-1 overall) came back from a 2-1 deficit after 40 minutes on Friday with a five-goal third period. The comeback started with captain Kevin Porter’s on-target slapshot from the point on the first shift of the period. Less than three minutes later, senior Chad Kolarik’s goal gave the Wolverines a 3-2 lead.
After another Maverick goal tied the score at three, sophomore defenseman Steve Kampfer put Michigan ahead for good 7:24 into the third period.
Friday’s game was the first in which one of the Wolverines’ 12 freshmen did not score a goal, and Porter notched his first hat trick since last November’s series against Nebraska-Omaha (0-4, 1-4). Senior leadership proved to be the difference in a game that Michigan coach Red Berenson said his team was “fortunate” to win.
“(Kolarik and I) are the two old guys, and we’re supposed to be the top guys,” Porter said. “We had to step up, and I think we did today.”
After Friday’s slow first period and sloppy second period, the Wolverines knew that they had to come out strong on Saturday.
It didn’t take long. Just over five minutes into the first period, Porter drilled a cross-crease pass from freshman Chad Langlais past Nebraska-Omaha goalie Jerad Kaufmann for Michigan’s first goal. The score was Porter’s eighth of the season and he finished with four for the weekend.
After being scratched Friday for missing a team event – an absence that Berenson called a “misunderstanding” – freshman Louie Caporusso quickly redeemed himself by scoring the Wolverines’ second goal three minutes later to give Michigan the two-goal cushion.
The Wolverines secured their fast start, but again, all momentum was lost in the second period.
“You’re disappointed, but sometimes you can’t do anything about it,” Berenson said. “You look at their record so far, and the second period has been far and away their best period. We knew that would happen. We tried to stop it and we couldn’t.”
Two Nebraska-Omaha goals and a 14-3 drubbing in the shots column left Michigan flailing in the second stanza. The Wolverines had off-target passes and couldn’t make plays, but Billy Sauer’s strong saves – including two glove stops on breakaways – kept Michigan in the game going into the third period. Sauer was credited with 28 saves on the night, but he appeared to face more shots than the box score indicated.
“I knew I was having a pretty good game, and I just wanted to keep it going,” Sauer said. “That’s really the biggest opportunity of the game, when they get a chance like (a breakaway) right after a goal, to shut them down. I know that’s huge for the team. We already got scored on twice in a row and to make it three for them to have the lead, it’s not good.”
Sauer didn’t allow another goal, and with less than three minutes remaining in the game, freshman Carl Hagelin dumped in a rebound from a Travis Turnbull corner shot for his second game-winning goal of the season.
Though the Wolverines left Nebraska with a sweep, they know that the second period can no longer equal a letdown.
“We’re just trying to keep guys focused,” Porter said. “It’s great to win seven games out of eight, but you’ve got to realize, we’ve played a few good teams, but (Nebraska-Omaha) was an average team in the CCHA and we were lucky to get two wins.”