BOSTON — Smothering defense by Denver and the biggest goal of Carter Savoie’s hockey career will give the Pioneers the chance to play for a national championship.
Savoie’s goal with 5:07 remaining in the first overtime period gave Denver a 3-2 victory over top-seeded Michigan in the first national semifinal at the 2022 NCAA Men’s Frozen Four at TD Garden on Thursday. The Pioneers advanced to Saturday night’s championship game.
After a failed clear at the Michigan blue line, Savoie found himself alone in front of Michigan goaltender Erik Portillo (30 saves). After firing a shot on goal that Portillo stopped, the rebound returned right to Savoie’s stick, allowing him to bury the goal into the open net.
“This one moves right to the top of the list,” Savoie said when asked where the overtime game winner ranks in his career. “Unbelievable feeling. [We’ve] got a chance to win a championship so there’s no better feeling than that.”
It was a game that many expected to be an offensive explosion with two teams ranked among the top three in goals scored this season. Instead, defense dominated, with Denver holding a 26-14 shots advantage in regulation and a 33-21 edge in the game.
Denver coach David Carles said that’s the type of hockey that proves successful this time of year.
“You don’t see teams win 6-4 in games like this generally,” said Carle. “You have to be comfortable in tight, checking games. And for me it was a really exciting hockey game because you saw a lot of talented hockey players commit themselves to playing team defense on both sides.
“And it was hard to score goals tonight. All five goals were tight within the house. Some took secondary opportunities. And I thought it was a great playoff hockey game.”
It took Michigan 14:04 just to get its first shot of the game, nearly three minutes after Brett Stapley gave the Pioneers the lead at 11:22.
Stapley crashed the net to grab a loose rebound of Justin Lee’s blast from the point, tucking a backhander past Portillo.
Early in the second, the Wolverines generated their best offensive chances of the game and, in doing so, drew even at 1-1.
Senior Jimmy Lambert found himself alone in the slot after his linemates drew the Denver defenders below the goal line. Nolan Moyle sent a backhander to the slot that Lambert lifted past Denver netminder Magnus Chrona (19 saves) at 4:03.
The goal woke up the Denver defense, however, as it allowed just one more Michigan shot over the final 15:57 of the second period.
In the third, Denver regained the lead on a perfect deflection by Cameron Wright of a Mike Benning shot at 5:36. But less than four minutes later, Michigan drew even.
Mark Estapa blocked a Denver shot with the puck bouncing to linemate Michael Pastujov. Skating with Thomas Bordeleau, Pastujov sent a puck toward the net that bounced to Bordeleau’s stick, allowing him to lift it past Chrona.
Denver had two late power plays but was unable to convert. Michigan did not receive a power play in the game.
The overtime frame was actually Michigan’s best. Although each team posted seven shots, it was the Wolverines that had some of the best chances. At 9:22, Brendan Brisson redirected a pass on a 2-on-1 that forced Chrona to make a left toe save. And another odd-man rush at 14:43 let Luke Hughes alone on Chrona, forcing the junior netminder to stand his ground.
“I couldn’t be more proud of the young men I was able to coach this year,” said Michigan coach Mel Pearson. “I told them that one game does not define them or take away from what they accomplished this year.”
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