The Michigan hockey team has never lost to Northern Michigan in postseason play.

After Friday night’s matchup, that streak continues, at least for one more day. In a game that started off as a blowout and then got a little too close for Michigan’s liking, the Wolverines beat the Wildcats, 3-2, in the first game of a best-of-three series in the first round of the CCHA Tournament.

“We found out tonight, no matter how big a lead you have, you’re not safe,” said senior forward Kevin Lynch. “Any team can come back in playoff hockey.”

Michigan relied heavily on its strong first period that was kickstarted when the Wildcats (9-16-4 CCHA, 15-18-4 overall) scored first — on themselves. After junior defenseman Jon Merrill fired a slapshot from the top of the slot during a power play, Northern Michigan’s CJ Ludwig accidentally knocked the puck in the goal as he tried to clear it. Both of Merrill’s goals have come via the power play.

The Wolverines (11-15-3, 14-18-3) went back on the power play a few minutes later, and this time, it was senior forward Kevin Lynch’s turn to strike, when he nabbed the rebound following senior forward A.J. Treais’s shot from the point.

And Lynch’s work on special teams wasn’t done. On a Michigan penalty kill, Lynch nabbed the puck in the neutral zone and skated on a breakaway towards Wildcat goalie Jared Coreau. He dangled before firing a shot that beat Coreau glove side, giving the Wolverines a 3-0 lead entering the first intermission.

“(Lynch) shows up in a game like this because their team is older, stronger (and) more physical,” Berenson said. “I think Kevin Lynch rose to the occasion tonight and he was rewarded.”

But all of the energy Michigan had during the first period seemed to dissipate in the second. This time, it was the Wildcats’ turn to control the pace of the game, as they kept play in Michigan’s zone for the first five minutes of the frame.

Then, they started to close the deficit: First, five minutes into the period with a slapshot from the point that bounced over freshman netminder Steve Racine’s left shoulder; then with a rebound that beat Racine glove side with four minutes remaining in the frame.

“I think our team knows they’re up against a team much tougher than the score appeared in the first period,” said Michigan coach Red Berenson. “The second period was all Northern (Michigan) and we were lucky to even have the lead after two periods.”

Both goalies were peppered with shots during the opening half of the third stanza, but Coreau finally seemed to find his rhythm. Racine, though, appeared a little less surefooted, getting caught out of position more than once.
The Wolverine forwards did generate some scoring opportunities, with a handful of breakaways and odd-man rushes, but were unable to find twine again.

Luckily for Michigan, though, its defense held steady.

“The reason we got up was our special teams,” Lynch said. “Our 5-on-5 hockey wasn’t really where we wanted it to be. The third period really picked it up and we played some shutdown defense.”

For a team that’s been riding high on the momentum of its past four games, Friday night was something of a wake up call that it hasn’t seen recently.

“I think that team will probably get some confidence,” Berenson said. “They came in here and outplayed us for more than half the game. Our team will maybe get a little resolve from this game.”

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