I'm not going to lead with a story this week. No trip down nostalgia lane, no personal anecdotes, no waxing sentimental. Instead I'm going to let the Michigan players speak for themselves via what they tweeted Saturday night after sweeping Western Michigan out of the CCHA playoffs.
If you haven't already embraced this team I'd recommend doing so right about now.
Friday, March 15, 2013- Game 1
08:43 Michigan 1 Western Michigan 0: Phil Di Giuseppe (9) from Kevin Lynch (14) & Brennan Serville (1)
PDG and Lynch work a give-and-go in the neutral zone, with Lynch passing to PDG and then PDG going back to Lynch. Note that this happens because Lynch has a step on his defender, creating a 2-on-1 odd-man rush for UM.
Lynch's defender manages to slide over and tries to get his stick in the passing lane, which is exactly what the other defenseman is doing. Lynch threads the needle between the two sticks and puts the puck on PDG's stick. Take a look at Slubowski here; he's square to Lynch, but he's going to have to slide a long way laterally to get square with PDG.
PDG roofs a shot over Slubowski's shoulder. The only reason that the shot is available (and that he doesn't have to try and pick a corner) is that Slubowski seemed to commit to Lynch and, as I mentioned above, had to move laterally to recover. This requires hitting the ice, which opens up the top portion of the net.
18:00 Michigan 2 Western Michigan 0: Justin Selman (4) from Mac Bennett (12)
Seth wrote in this week's "Dear Diary..." post that he noticed an increase in puck movement during the Northern series. If that was the theme last weekend, then what's the theme this weekend? Odd-man rushes! Count 'em up; three guys behind the play and one scrambling and praying to all that's holy to try and get back.
Selman has two options; he can shoot it or he can pass to Bennett. The positioning of the defenseman, coupled with the fact that he's already on his knee, makes both options equally viable for Selman. He chooses to shoot, but his shot is stopped...
...but not without a sugary sweet rebound popping out in front. All Selman has to do is keep skating (which duh, he did) and the puck is his to backhand over the sprawled Slubowski.
03:30 Michigan 2 Western Michigan 1: Chase Balisy (11) from Dane Walters (13) & Garrett Haar (5)
Michigan has a chance to clear but can't, as DeBlois is unable to hang on to the puck. Haar holds it in at the blueline for Western and immediately sends a pass to Walters in the faceoff circle. Check out the uneven distribution of Michigan defenders and the player who's now all alone behind the Michigan defense, Bailsy (circled above).
Walters fires a pass to Bailsy. Again, all of Michigan's defenders are clumped together. Walters doesn't even have to think here; Bailsy's that open.
Bailsy has to settle the puck before loading his shot, and even then he doesn't seem to get much on it. The puck flutters over Racine and in. Racine got hung out to dry but he also had a second to prepare for the shot. I wouldn't blame solely him, but I am a little surprised he didn't stop this one.
04:32 Michigan 2 Western Michigan 2: Colton Hargrove (8) from Ben Warda (9)
He's off camera now, but Bennett starts the play with an outlet pass up the boards to Treais.
Just as the puck's about to arrive a Western defender closes on Treais and it bounces off of him and towards center ice. The puck takes another bounce, this time off of Moffatt's stick and back towards the Michigan blueline. Moffat turns and tries to chase it down.
Moffatt never recovers the puck, but Western's Colton Hargrove does. He snipes one past Racine and it looks like the floodgates might oh-so-familiarly open.
07:13 Michigan 3 Western Michigan 2: Jacob Trouba (11) from Alex Guptill (18) & Mac Bennett (13)
If there was any doubt about whether he had earned the JMFT moniker that should be put to rest after this play. Trouba splits two defenders to continue his own rush through the neutral zone.
Trouba carries the puck into the offensive zone and looks like he's about to unleash one of his signature spark-meets-gunpowder slapshots.
But then he doesn't. No, Trouba instead slows his slapshot down and wrists one past Slubowski. The slowing of the shot freezes Slubowski and the defenseman, hence the statuesque squares around them in the above screencap. He's not just JMFT, he's JmfT. More subtle, yet equally effective
10:19 Michigan 3 Western Michigan 3: Josh Pitt (3) from Kenney Morrison (13) & Colton Hargrove (2)
I'm not going to spend a lot of time on this one because it's about as close to an unpreventable goal as you're going to get in a playoff series. Western takes a shot from the blueline that hits two of their players on the way to the net, one of whom is screening Racine.
09:15 Michigan 4 Western Michigan 3: PPG Jacob Trouba (12) from A.J. Treais (16) & Alex Guptill (19)
Treais has the puck at the point and passes to Trouba. This draws one of the penalty-killers closer to the blueline and essneitally gets two guys bunched together, as they're now lined up with each other as opposed to covering the top two corners of the PK box.
Trouba slides across the blueline and Treais moves behind him. This causes the penalty-killers to flinch, with the low man especially confused about who to cover. He starts to skate towards Treais while the high man moves towards Trouba.
The circled Western player then decides to call Treais as his man, leaving the low man to try and cover the open ice between himself and Trouba. There's no way he can recover and Trouba takes full advantage, actually unleashing the whole spark-meets-gunpowder slapshot this time and converting.
Saturday, March 16, 2013- Game 2
I used the CCHA's highlight video for the screencaps but discovered after writing everything that Center Ice posted a better quality video. Check it out, especially to watch Guptill chirp angry-Western-guy at the end.
01:08 Michigan 1 Western Michigan 0: Kevin Lynch (10) from Lee Moffie (9) & Jon Merrill (7)
Moffie has the puck in the defensive zone and sees a gap up the middle of the ice that he can launch a pass through to start the breakout.
Outlet passes don't get much better than this one, as Moffie stretches the ice and puts the puck perfectly on the tape of Kevin Lynch's stick.
Lynch shoots almost immediately and just straight up beats Slubowski to put Michigan on the board first.
16:36 Michigan 1 Western Michigan 1: Garrett Haar (4) from Nolan LaPorte (3) & Josh Pitt (6)
Western rims the puck around the boards to the blueline. The Michigan defender who's supposed to be covering that area of the ice (circled above) runs into a Western player, which frees Haar to carry the puck across the blueline undefended.
Haar is going to have a shot available to him because Selman is stuck trying to make a choice; he has to guess whether Haar will pass to Brown or whether he will take the shot himself. By the time Selman can read the play Haar's ready to shoot, and he uses a snapshot to get the puck through quicker. If he winds up for a slapshot Selman would likely be able to move up and cover.
Racine has four guys in front of him and doesn't have much of a chance to stop this one. The disclaimer that goes with this goal, however, is that there's only one camera angle of it. It looks to me like the four guys are in Racine's line of sight and impacting his ability to track the puck, but that may not necessarily be the case.
02:53 Michigan 2 Western Michigan 1: Andrew Sinelli (3) from A.J. Treais (17) & Luke Moffatt (11)
Treais beats his defender and is able to get a shot on net that a sliding Slubowski stops (aliteration FTW).
Slubowski's best Dominik Hasek impression causes him to send the puck itno the corner, where Treais digs it out and centers it.
Is it Slubowski or Hasek? I can't even tell!
Sinelli shoots through the defender's legs and hits the half-open net behind him.
10:09 Michigan 3 Western Michigan 1: PPG Alex Guptill (13) from Andrew Copp (10) & Luke Moffatt (12)
Moffatt carries the puck down low with speed and sees Copp on the other side of the net. There's a defender draped all over him and another in the slot, so he holds the puck for an extra second before trying to center it. By now Copp has crashed the net and the puck never gets to him, instead getting lost in a scramble in front of the net.
It's hard to tell whether Slubowski got a piece of the puck or whether this is the work of someone else, but somehow the puck slides backwards into the high slot. Guptill is in perfect position to pick it up
Guptill gathers the puck and makes a perfect read. The defeneseman in front of the net dives to stop what he assumes will be a backhanded shot so Guptill spins. This opens up a scoring chance, because Slubowski is already on the ice and now so too is the defenseman in front of the net. Guptill roofs a shot over the mass carnage in front and scores.
10:58 Michigan 4 Western Michigan 1: Derek DeBlois (10) from Phil Di Giuseppe (19)
PDG carries the puck into the offensive zone with a ton of speed, but he gets penned in by thee Western defenders.
OR DOES HE?. He shows flashes of Datsyuk as he slides the puck under the defeder's stick and picks it up on the backhand on the other side. PDG throws the puck on net and Slubowski kinda stops it, but also causes it to flutter through the air.
The puck lands in the crease and just happens to land directly in front of a Western defender. Doesn't matter though, because DeBlois charges hard and wins the game of whack-a-puck.
19:42 Michigan 5 Western Michigan 1: Alex Guptill (14) from Luke Moffatt (13) & A.J. Treais (18)
Moffatt looks like God's gift to stickhandling on this play. He stops on a dime and starts to turn his body as if he's going to spin and carry the puck down the boards. This freezes one defender and draws another over.
He instead pulls the puck back across his body to the forehand and passes to Guptill, who's wide open and has just one defender to beat.
Guptill skates across the crease and nets his second of the night. Nail, meet coffin. Broom, meet Bronco.
H/T to the Daily's Zach Helfand and Paul Sherman for the Trouba photo
Earlier in the year our offense was stalling out, they seemed unwilling to make any kind of play that wouldn't result in a highlight type goal. Guptill and Di Giuseppe struggled against game plans that took away their net presence and became very one dimensional.
What changed is guys like Copp, DeBlois and Lynch got red hot and started grinding goals. As a team; players like Luke Moffatt, Gup, and Di Giuseppe have started to play a similar style.
Basically playing in a home game against a team who is just a little bit better than Western, I will be very shocked if they have trouble scoring this weekend.
The biggest difference I've noticed between earlier in the season and now is the number of mental mistakes. Earlier in the season MIchigan had a bad habit of blowing coverages and committing horrific turnovers and that's turned around as of late. I certainly like Michigan's chances against a Miami team that they split a series with at Yost during the crappy part of the season; y'know, October through three weeks ago.
The series at Yost was probably just before the really crappy part. Going into that series Michigan hadn't scored less than 4 goals in a game and went another weekend before scoring less than 3. After that the real crap began and they had a 6 game stretch where they scored 6 goals total and averaged 4.5 goals against, a trend which continued until basically Febuary.
That said I really like our chances, we seem to be playing out of our minds (or maybe just to our talent level). And Miami lost last weekend to FYS, which in the games I've seen them play is deservedly the worst team in the conference. Not to mention we have been lighting up some of the top goalies in the country in Slubowski and Hjelle and will need more of the same against Ryan McKay who is pretty much hands down the best goalie in hockey