FORT WAYNE, Ind. — During No. 6 Michigan’s 9-2 victory over Notre Dame at Allen County War Memorial Coliseum on Friday, the Wolverines and the Fighting Irish seemed to be two teams playing in different leagues. Notre Dame failed to generate any semblance of offensive flow, and Michigan boasted seven different goal-scorers. The win pushed the three-game scoring total for the season series to 23-3 in the Wolverines’ favor and had fans expecting yet another embarrassing blowout at Yost Ice Arena on Saturday. But Michigan coach Red Berenson’s wisdom dictated otherwise.

“We knew it would be a different game (than it was on Friday),” Berenson said after Notre Dame’s far more competitive — yet ultimately futile — effort in a 6-3 loss on Saturday. “You can’t beat a team, 9-2, and expect them to lay down. Notre Dame is a proud team, they’re a good team, (and) they’re a hard-working team.”

Despite the fact that the Irish (3-18-5 CCHA, 5-23-6 overall) came out inspired and trailed by just one entering the third period, Michigan (21-3-2, 24-7-3) used a career-high four-point performance from junior Jeff Tambellini and a tide-turning 5-on-3 penalty kill in the final frame to pull out the win. The Wolverines extended their lead over No. 7 Ohio State for first place in the CCHA regular season standings to three with the weekend sweep. The Buckeyes — who entered the weekend just a single point behind — fell to Michigan State on Friday but recovered for the win on Saturday.

The first period of play held to the previous night’s form, with Michigan heading to the locker room up 2-0 after 20 minutes of play. Just 4:55 after the opening faceoff, freshman Kevin Porter took a pass from sophomore T.J. Hensick and beat Notre Dame sophomore goalie David Brown on a wrister from the slot. Seven minutes later, Tambellini scored his first goal of the night on the Wolverines’ first power play. The alternate captain scooped up a rebound from an Eric Werner shot and beat Brown through the five-hole from the left circle to capitalize on the man advantage.

But the Irish made it interesting at the start of the second period. A mere 33 seconds after the puck was dropped, sophomore T.J. Jindra skated into the Michigan zone and faked goalie Al Montoya, beating him stick side by faking right and placing the puck neatly inside the left post. After senior David Moss got the Michigan lead back to two on a backhand rebound shot from the crease that sailed above Brown’s glove, Irish freshman Victor Oreskovich narrowed the gap once again. Oreskovich beat Montoya high stick side on a shot from above the left circle with just 19 seconds before the horn to ensure a meaningful third period.

“Last night we kind of blew it open right away,” Tambellini said of the difference between Notre Dame’s play on Friday and Saturday “With these teams, what I find is that if you get on them, get up a couple really early in the game, they’ll kind of fold the tents. But if you let them in the game for two periods — even one-and-a-half — they’re going to start pushing. Once they get a chance and they get a sniff of the victory, they really pour it on.”

The situation became more dire for Michigan a minute into the final frame. Porter, who had scored the opening goals in both games over the weekend, was slapped with a questionable five-minute major for checking from behind and received a game misconduct, ending his night prematurely. Berenson made his feelings on the referee’s decision clear afterwards.

“I can’t comment on the officiating, but I’m making a strong comment on it by not commenting,” Berenson said.

Sophomore Tim Cook’s subsequent penalty 3:05 after Porter’s ejection forced the Wolverines to play with two men in the box for nearly two minutes. Nevertheless, the five-minute stretch of penalty killing was spectacular. Two shorthanded rushes — one by junior Andrew Ebbett and another by Moss and sophomore Mike Brown — kept the pressure off the defense, while Montoya made an excellent split-legged, right-pad save on senior Cory McLean and corralled the rebound midway through the 5-on-3. Michigan came back to full strength just as Montoya gloved another shot out of the air to stymie the Fighting Irish.

“When it came down to a big save that could potentially win the game, (Montoya) made it,” Notre Dame coach Dave Poulin said.

Berenson wasn’t entirely satisfied with his team’s play throughout the game, but the third-period penalty kill was a bright spot.

“To kill a five-minute major is a big deal,” Berenson said. “Even though their power play may not be that strong, they had the puck in the zone most of the time. Our penalty killers did a good job of rotating, having sticks in the passing lanes, denying shots, blocking shots and discouraging them from shooting. They worked hard in the corner, on loose pucks, trying to get it out. That was a good effort.”

Ebbett’s power play goal with seven minutes left would be the eventual game-winner. Tambellini’s shot from the left point was stopped by Brown, but the rebound popped out to Ebbett on the right side of the net. The junior tapped it home for his second goal of the weekend.

“Not scoring on the 5-on-3 and them coming back and getting one on the power play (were turning points),” Poulin said. “And there’s the game right there.”

On Friday, Ebbett scored his first goal since Oct. 23. The weekend’s output doubled his goal total for the season, pushing it to four.

“It feels real good to help the team put some pucks in the net,” Ebbett said. “I know I’ve had a lot of assists lately (and) I’ve been playing well. But (scoring goals takes) a load off my shoulders.”

Tambellini’s second score of the night put the game out of reach at 18:10 of the third period. The junior’s wide-angle shot from the low right circle beat Brown top shelf to make the score 5-2 in favor of Michigan. Notre Dame forward Matt Amado’s goal 19 seconds later was too little, too late. Moss ended the scoring with an empty net goal to give the Wolverines the 6-3 win and a spot in the driver’s seat to finish the race for the CCHA crown.

“We control our own destiny the whole way,” Tambellini said. “It’s up to us. We just have to keep playing. We’re not worried about what (Ohio State is) doing. As long as we play well (against Bowling Green in two weeks), everything should be fine.”

 

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