Worcester, Mass. — It was a high-stakes showdown between two of nation’s top forward lines.
Junior Cooper Marody and seniors Tony Calderone and Dexter Dancs for the No. 2 Michigan hockey team were pitted against No. 3 Northeastern’s dynamic trio of Hobey Baker finalists Adam Gaudette and Dylan Sikura and captain Nolan Stevens.
And when the final horn sounded, the Wolverines’ line of speed, skill and strength would prevail.
Behind two goals from Marody and a third from Dancs, the Wolverines (21-14-3) outlasted the Huskies, 3-2, Saturday night in the NCAA Tournament regional semifinals. Marody’s tally with 4:30 left in regulation was the difference as Michigan advances to Sunday's regional final against No. 4 Boston University (4 p.m., ESPN2).
“I thought it was a hard-fought, gritty hockey game tonight and I’m really proud of our team,” Michigan coach Mel Pearson said. "One of the things that … Marody, Calderone and Dancs, all week, they asked us if they could play against Northeastern’s top line and I thought they did an outstanding job.
“Really, that’s the story of the game.”
The first period started with even play, as each team swiftly entered the offensive zone and threw shots on goal, only to have them turned aside by both goaltenders.
Outshot 5-4, through almost halfway through the stanza, the Wolverines finally found offensive rhythm. They unloaded a flurry of quality chances, outshooting Northeastern, 7-1, over the next five minutes, but couldn’t find the back of the net.
Three consecutive shots from junior defenseman Joseph Cecconi and a searing wrister from Calderone were muted by Huskie goaltender Cayden Primeau. A quick poke of the puck from sophomore forward Nick Pastujov flipped over the net to keep the game scoreless.
On the other side of the ice, sophomore goaltender Hayden Lavigne quieted the nation’s fourth-best offense, turning away 11 shots at the first period’s close.
With 3:43 remaining in the period, sophomore forward Jake Slaker was called for tripping, sending Michigan on its first penalty kill. The fourth-worst short-handed unit in the college hockey at 75.34 percent stood to be feasted on by Northeastern’s power play that coverts at a third-best 27.2 percent scoring clip.
But two timely saves, quick clears by freshman forward Dakota Raabe and a blocked shot later, the Wolverines returned to full strength.
The Huskies wouldn’t register a shot until the 10:29 mark when forward Matt Filipe found himself on a breakaway.
Lavigne would win the one-on-one battle with a stick save, holding his end of the bargain in the netminder standoff and keeping the largely-Northeastern crowd at DCU Center restless for the first goal.
Soon thereafter, that first tally arrived, but to the chagrin of the Huskie faithful.
With 4:57 left in the second, Marody glided around the Northeastern net, spun at the left circle and unloaded a laser that went five-hole past Primeau to open the scoring.
But Michigan’s lead would be short-lived. Exactly two minutes later, junior forward Brendan Warren was penalized for hooking and the Wolverines were down a man for the second time in as many periods.
And the Huskies power play wouldn’t be denied twice. Sixty-one seconds into the man advantage, a cross-ice pass found its way to Sikura who buried a one-timer past an out-of-position Lavigne and into a wide-open net. After 40 minutes of play, it would remain 1-1.
Less than six minutes into the third period, Dancs would steal the puck at the blueline and do it all by himself. The senior barreled down the right flank past the Northeastern defense and flipped a backhander over Primeau to regain the one-goal lead.
The Wolverine goal lit a fire underneath both teams, who traded a sequence of opportune chances, all which were stifled by the goaltenders.
That is, until 7:59 to go, when Huskie defenseman Eric Williams flicked a wrist shot on goal that crept past Lavigne to tie it at 2.
Three minutes later, Calderone outskated Northeastern down the ice and lofted a backhanded pass to Marody, who was streaking in between the circles. Marody got his stick on the puck, which would find its way under Primeau’s glove for his second goal of the night and prove to be the eventual game-winner.
For the third time of the night, Pearson’s ‘DMC’ line had bested the Huskies’ ‘Big Three’. After the game, Pearson and Dancs were quick to point out their offensive heavyweights came out on top.
“You look at the plus-minus tonight and you can see which line — fortunately for us, tonight Cooper, Tony and Dexter were plus-three and that line was minus-three,” Pearson said. “That’s one of the keys.”
Added Dancs: “All week, we heard about how their line is the best line in college hockey. Playing here, this is my fourth year here, Cooper’s third and Tony’s fourth. We play for these challenges. … We wanted to show everyone that we’re in the Big Ten, a really good league, and we’ve played against good players all year and we love the challenge.”
In a last-ditch effort to tie the game the third time, Northeastern pulled Primeau with 66 seconds left. But Lavigne and the Michigan defense stood strong to play another day and a chance for a Frozen Four appearance.
Benjamin Katz is a freelance writer
Michigan vs. Boston University
Faceoff: 4 p.m. Sunday, DCU Center, Worcester, Mass.
Records: No. 2 Michigan 21-14-3; No. 4 Boston 22-13-4
Up next: Winner advances to Frozen Four in St. Paul, Minn.