Miami took an early lead in its NCHC Tournament opener, but No. 3 Denver scored the next four goals, ruining any potential upset bid.
The Pioneers won Game 1 in the best-of-3 series, 5-2 at Magness Arena on Friday, and the RedHawks now face elimination in this round for the sixth straight season.
Miami (7-26-2) would need to run the table through the remaining two games of this series and win both games in St. Paul to advance to the national tournament.
Denver (26-8-1) is now 5-0 vs. the RedHawks this season and has outscored MU, 16-4 in its three wins at Magness.
RECAP: Chase Pletzke tipped in a Ryan Savage shot from the bottom of the faceoff circle on the power play to give Miami the lead at 3:19 of the first period.
The Pioneers’ Cole Guttman tied it four minutes later – also on the power play – when he ripped a centering feed by Bobby Brink from the slot past RedHawks goalie Ludvig Persson on the stick side.
Denver took its first lead 2:05 into the middle frame on a 3-on-1 as Miami was changing. Cameron Wright set up Jack Devine with a one-time feed through the slot, and Devine ripped it home.
Just 31 seconds later, Justin Lee fed a wide-open McKade Webster in the slot for a one-time blast that made it 3-1.
Brett Stapley put Denver up by three early into a power play on a snipe inside the left post from just inside the left faceoff circle with 12:23 left in regulation.
Miami trimmed its deficit to two when Alec Capstick snuck a wrist shot from the blue line over the shoulder of DU goalie Magnus Chrona with 8:49 remaining.
But the Pioneers sealed it on an empty netter from the defensive zone by Shai Buium that caromed off the boards at center ice and curled into the cage in the final minute.
STATS: Pletzke’s goal was his second in five games, his seventh of the season and No. 15 of his career. He has three against Denver – one in each of his three seasons as a RedHawk.
Capstick, also a junior, scored for the first time since Oct. 22 vs. Bowling Green, and he has five markers in his three years at Miami.
— Chase Gresock, P.J. Fletcher and Matt Barry picked up an assist apiece, as the three continue to put up big offensive numbers in the second half of the season.
Barry has 12 points in his last 11 games. Since returning from injury, Gresock has recorded 12 points in nine contests, and Fletcher has eight in that span.
— Ryan Savage earned the other helper, snapping a six-game skid without a point.
— Miami had allowed just three power play goals in its previous six games (19-for-22, 86.3 percent) but gave up two in seven chances in this game.
— Denver’s empty netter was the ninth allowed by the RedHawks this season.
THOUGHTS: Overall and under the circumstances, Miami didn’t play a bad game.
The RedHawks didn’t play well enough to beat the third-ranked team in Division and the No. 1 seed in the NCHC Tournament, and the final score reflected that.
A few things stuck out, in no particular order, and we’ve touched on a couple above.
— Too many penalties. Not talking about the skirmish late in the third period. Standing up for teammates was fine, and Miami earned a power play from that dust-up.
Inconsistent officiating or not, no team can expect to win when giving Denver seven power play chances in its own rink. The Pioneers scored on two of them.
— Dylan Moulton and Robby Drazner being out of the lineup due to injury is bad.
The sophomores are total stereotype blue-collar defensemen whose primary job is to shut down opposing forwards, and they both had solid seasons.
Their impact on the game isn’t always immediately evident, but the rate of opponents’ high-percentage looks has recently soared in their absence.
— Segue to Miami’s defensive breakdowns early in the second period. Denver had two ridiculous chances that were denied early in the second period, and the third one found the net.
This was a big problem last weekend and the Pioneers generated a lot of odd-man chances in Game 1.
Miami also struggled to defend the slot, which Denver exploited for multiple goals. It looked like this was something the Pioneers caught on film, as DU was able to find open snipers uncontested in the slot at will on the power play and during sustained offensive-zone possession shifts.
— Persson certainly allowed a handful of stoppable goals the first three-quarters of the regular season, but he was absolutely stellar in this game despite the save percentage, which is over .920 since 19-1 weekend.
— The RedHawks had chances to cut into that 3-1 lead but missed on multiple Grade-A scoring chances.
— This may belong more in the stats segment but we’re ending this block with the following: Miami outshot Denver, 8-2 on the power play. The Pioneers lead, 15-0 in SOG during their man-advantage time.
The teams logged about the same PP time.
LINEUP CHANGES: Michael Regush returned after missing the last 10 games due to injury.
He generated three shots on goal as he replaced Moulton, who suffered a lower-body injury last Saturday. Regush recorded nine points in 24 games before getting banged up.
FINAL THOUGHTS: Miami’s task of beating the top seed on the road in a best of three just got a whole lot harder after losing Game 1.
The RedHawks continued to battle until the final horn despite a devastating two-goal rush by Denver early in the second period, and they certainly have a chance to even the series if they play with the same intensity on Saturday.