The Michigan Wolverines (31-9-1) are advancing to their 26th Frozen Four, the most of any team, following a nail-biting third period in a 7-4 victory over Quinnipiac (32-7-3) in the Allentown Regional Final.
Allentown was treated to a styles clash of the highest order in college hockey: Michigan’s prolific offense against Quinnipiac’s suffocating defense; the No. 3 ranked scoring offense in the country against No. 1 ranked scoring defense.
Despite the headlines advertising an unstoppable force meeting an immovable object, it took the Wolverines just 33 seconds to jump out to an early lead. Defenseman Owen Power carried the puck into the zone and fired it on net to create chaos. Michigan forward Jimmy Lambert took a swipe at it before ultimately Nolan Moyle found the back of the net.
But Michigan’s fourth line was not done yet in the period. At the 5:28 mark, freshman defenseman Luke Hughes created space on the right side before putting the puck ON A ROPE to Lambert who touched home a wide open goal to make it 2-0.
However, despite the 2-0 lead, Quinnipiac controlled the puck for most of the period and it was a concerted effort by Michigan’s backcheck and Erik Portillo keeping the Bobcats off the scoreboard. Portillo stopped all 14 shots he faced and limited any second chance opportunities to preserve the lead.
The second period saw more of the same to start: Quinnipiac dominating puck possession and the Wolverines taking advantage in key moments. Michigan’s fourth line was threatening again, which lead to Lambert being hooked and awarded the Wolverines the first power play of the game.
This was a marquee matchup within the matchup: Quinnipiac’s No. 1 ranked penalty kill versus Michigan’s No. 5 ranked power play unit. The Wolverines seemed to take this personally and the first time they established possession in the Bobcats’ zone, they lit the lamp.
From the point, Power fed Brendan Brisson on the right side who quickly one-touched a pass to an unchecked Thomas Bordeleau in the slot. Bordy wristed home a shot past Yaniv Perets and made it 3-0 Wolverines.
The Bobcats had two opportunities on the power play in the second period, but it only resulted in the Wolverines taking advantage. Captain Nick Blankenburg poked a puck free and jumpstarted a short-handed rush. Blankenburg threw a pass in front of Perets and Garrett Van Whye hammered it home to make it 4-0 after two periods.
In the third period, the Wolverines fell back into bad old habits of coasting and things got tight in a flash.
Quinnipiac got on the board at the 15:48 mark. Forward Jayden Lee spun around at the point and threw a shot on net that deflected off Blankenburg’s skate and slid past Portillo.
Now trailing 4-1, the Bobcats began to believe. Michigan freshman defender Ethan Edwards turned the puck over deep in his own zone and Quinnipiac capitalized on a two-on-none advantage to cut it to 4-2 with 10:48 remaining.
Just two minutes later, the Bobcats tallied another goal on a wrap around pass from Ty Smilanic to Desi Burgart who found a wide open net. With 8:58 remaining, Michigan’s four-goal lead was down to one.
After winning five straight faceoffs and dominating the entire period, Quinnipiac head coach Rand Pecknold gambled at the four-minute mark and pulled his goalie. However, the gamble ended up vaporizing all of the Quinnipiac’s momentum.
Bordeleau poked a puck free and played it up to Mark Estapa who connected with Michael Pastujov — the only remaining Wolverines from the 2018 Frozen Four team — who put the puck in the empty net and effectively punched Michigan’s return ticket to the Frozen Four.
In the final two minutes, Moyle scored another empty netter, Brisson scored on a power play and Quinnipiac notched one more goal with 22 seconds remaining.
After a chaotic and stressful third period, Michigan won 7-4.
Next up, Denver. The Pioneers defeated Minnesota-Duluth 2-1 in the Loveland Regional Final Saturday night to punch their ticket to the Frozen Four.
On the other side of the bracket, it will be a battle for the state of Minnesota as Minnesota State play the Minnesota Golden Gophers.
The Wolverines did well against both those teams this season. Michigan defeated Minnesota State 3-2 on Oct. 16 and also took the season series from Minnesota three games to two, including a 4-3 victory in the Big Ten Tournament Championship.