Michigan hockey punches ticket to NCAA-record 26th Frozen Four

Nolan Bianchi
Special to The Detroit News

Four is the magic number.

Michigan got a goal from every member of its fourth line — two from Nolan Moyle — and staved off a four-goal third period from Quinnipiac to win its NCAA Quarterfinal matchup, 7-4, in Allentown, Pennsylvania, on Sunday, punching its ticket to its NCAA-record 26th Frozen Four.

It's the Wolverines' first Frozen Four since 2018. The entire 2020 NCAA hockey season was cut short due to the pandemic and Michigan was forced to withdraw from last season's NCAA Tournament after a number of positive COVID tests.

The Wolverines took a 4-0 lead into the third period but were quickly facing total collapse. Quinnipiac had a 14-7 shots advantage in the final frame and made it 4-3 with 8:58 to go.

Michigan got a goal from every member of its fourth line and staved off a four-goal third period from Quinnipiac to win its NCAA Quarterfinal matchup, 7-4, in Allentown, Pa. on Sunday, punching its ticket to a NCAA-record 26th Frozen Four in program history.

An aggressive goalie pull with 3:56 left in the game wound up blowing up in Quinnipiac's face as Michael Pastujov put the Wolverines up by two just 20 seconds later. Moyle added his second goal of the game with an empty-netter at 18:37. Michigan sophomore Brendan Brisson and Quinnipiac's Zach Metsa added a goal in the final 35 seconds.

Michigan head coach Mel Pearson was complimentary toward his goaltender Erik Portillo, who made 30 saves, in an interview on the ESPN broadcast following the game. 

"He just competes," Pearson said. "I just told him, you see the four goals-against, but he could be the first star of this game. I mean, he really kept us in the game. Quinnipiac just gets a lot of pucks to the net, they had some open looks in the first period, but he competes. ... I thought he was outstanding tonight."

Michigan advances to face Denver — with a roster that includes Red Wings prospects Carter Mazur, Shai Buium and Antti Tuomisto — in the Frozen Four from the T.D. Garden in Boston on April 7. Pearson anticipates having to play strong for a full 60 minutes to beat Denver.

"The hardest part is getting into a situation where you have a lead and play with pressure, and you just (have to) play your game," Pearson added. "I thought we got away from our game, but they're a good offensive team, they're as good as any team in the country.

"We're gonna have to make sure that we play three periods, just not two."

Moyle got the scoring started for Michigan just 33 seconds into the game. Jimmy Lambert got a feed out front and produced a rebound for Owen Power, who then returned the favor for Moyle as he jammed home the opening goal.

With 5:24 left in the opening period, freshman defenseman Luke Hughes received the puck off a faceoff, beat a defender, and fed a backhand pass through the wickets of a Quinnipiac defender that went off Lambert's stick and into the net. 

More: Michigan's Michael Pastujov relishes Wolverines' return to NCAA hockey tournament

Michigan and Quinnipiac played to a rampant pace in the first period, as each team had 14 shots on goal after the first. That would turn in the second period — but it didn't stop Michigan from putting another pair of goals on the board.

The Wolverines' fifth-ranked power play got to work in the second to go up 3-0 at 6:04. Thomas Bordeleau received an effortless pass from Brisson and fired it home from the slot, as Power picked up his second assist. Michigan appeared to deliver a knockout punch with 1:06 left in the period, as Moyle and defenseman Nick Blankenburg teamed up to steal the puck on a penalty kill and gain an odd-man rush that was sent home by Garrett Van Wyhe to make it 4-0.

Dylan St. Cyr entered the game at goaltender for Quinnipiac in the third. Jayden Lee got Quinnipiac on the board with a goal at 4:12, and Wyatt Bongiovanni added one with 10:59 left.

Michigan's defense again fell apart just two minutes later. A cohort of puck chasers left Desi Burgart alone out front to make it a one-goal game with a whopping 8:58 let in regulation.

With the momentum, Quinnipiac pulled St. Cyr with 3:57 left. Michigan won the draw and cleared it to safety, allowing Pastujov to score the empty-netter.

Nolan Bianchi is a freelance writer.

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