OXFORD, Ohio – If baseball is a game of inches, hockey is a game of millimeters.
No. 5 Denver broke a tie by scoring twice in the third period, including an empty netter, as the Pioneers swept Miami with a 4-2 win at Cady Arena on Saturday.
The RedHawks trailed by one in the closing minutes and twice hit the inside of the post with the extra attacker before allowing the clinching ENG.
RECAP: Denver (18-5-1) took the lead with 6:57 left in the first period when Brett Stapley dropped a pass at the blue line to Sean Behrens, who juked a defender and whipped a wrist shot past Miami goalie Ludvig Persson.
The Pioneers’ Cameron Wright deflected a blue line blast from Massimo Rizzo on the power play with 12:10 left in the middle stanza to make it 2-0.
Miami cut the deficit to one 1:49 later when Derek Daschke whipped a wrist shot toward the goal and Matthew Barbolini tipped the waist-high shot past goalie Magnus Chrona on the power play.
The RedHawks tied it with 56 seconds left in the frame when a neutral-zone feed by John Sladic sprung Jack Olmstead, who accelerated through the offense zone and shoveled a backhander into the top corner.
But Denver took the lead for good with 14:18 left in regulation when Persson denied a point-blank blast by Stapley that ended up kicking out to Ryan Barrow in the slot, and he hammered it into the net to make it 3-2.
McKade Webster’s empty netter with 1:08 to play sealed it.
STATS: Six skaters recorded a point for Miami.
Barbolini netted his team-best ninth goal of the season, and he finished the weekend with three points.
Olmstead, who had two career goals in three seasons entering 2021-22, scored his fifth – all of which have come in his last 12 contests.
Daschke, Sladic and both Savages earned an assist apiece.
Daschke picked up a helper for the second straight game and leads the RedHawks with 14.
Sladic didn’t earn an assist until Jan. 8 but has three in five games since.
— Like Barbolini, Red Savage also finished the set with three points, and Ryan Savage – who missed five games due to a recent upper-body injury, picked up his first points since Dec. 12 at Mercyhurst.
— Persson stopped 42 of 45 shots. He has made at least 40 saves in three of fives after not seeing that much rubber in any of his first 17 appearances.
— It was the fifth straight game in which Miami has been outscored by a 2-to-1 margin. Final shots were 46-21.
THOUGHTS: Maybe it’s part diminished expectations, which would be understandable since Miami has won once at home this season and is now winless in its last 15 league games, but this game almost felt like a victory.
The RedHawks played a good game overall against an absolute force of a team, one with tons of scoring depth, three quality defense pairings and an all-conference goalie who wasn’t even particularly great this weekend.
After St. Cloud, there was a fear that maybe this program had gone off the proverbial rails and was completely beyond repair, sort of like Aerosmith post-1970s.
By the standard of two awful games in St. Cloud and then another heartbreaker on Friday, being tied after two periods and then only losing by two – with one being an empty-netter – this was actually kind of a reset (we’ll ignore one of the most heinous stats in program history: MU’s 3-10-1 record this season when tied or leading heading into the third period…yes, you read that right).
It was neither RedHawks Template 1 (blowout) or RedHawks Template 2 (wow, we led late and lost like that…bartender, I’d like a fentanyl margarita).
It was a game in which Miami played pretty well and worked hard but was out-talented, which has been most games the first 2½ seasons of the Bergeron era as the RedHawks transitioning back to respectability.
The RedHawks had an excellent chance to tie it late but the posts had other ideas, a lot better than being down, say, 10 as the clock expired.
— Very much liked the Matt Barry-Chase Pletzke chemistry. Barry had a breakaway and drew a penalty off a Pletzke feed, and Pletzke set Barry up for a quality chance as well.
— Really hard sell for long-timers to appreciate players from U-M named Jack, but it’s becoming harder not to like Olmstead. What a senior season he’s having. His turbo-boost backhander was one of Miami’s top 10 highlights of the season.
He had nine career points in his first three collegiate seasons but is 5-5-10 in 2021-22.
LINEUP CHANGES: None, but the injuries are piling up again, with Fletcher coming out in the first period with an upper-body injury.
Coach Chris Bergeron said he was “not optimistic” he would return for the Nebraska-Omaha series despite the upcoming off week.
Also down up front are Chase Gresock, Joey Cassetti and Michael Regush, all offensive impact players. Backup goalie Logan Neaton is out for the season with a knee injury.
FINAL THOUGHTS: Despite being swept, a ritual Miami is all too familiar with sweep, coach, players and fans want to take the positives of out the weekend.
There were actually a lot of those, although starting the top 19 skaters from the club team would have been an improvement over the St. Cloud series.
Top college hockey voices think Denver is among the favorites to win the NCAA Tournament, and Miami came within 11 seconds of taking the Pioneers down on Friday and were two last-minute posts from writing a different script for this game.
It’s hard to disagree about those opinions of DU: The team is flat-out awesome.
While the bar was low and Miami’s record is 4-20-2, the out-manned RedHawks at least gave a quality effort for 120 minutes and were agonizingly close to earning league points both nights.
Hopefully we see more performances like this past weekend (minus the late-game struggles) the remainder of the season and nothing remotely resembling the St. Cloud massacre.