There will be no coronation. Entering a first-round playoff series with momentum, and holding a 3-0 lead after 20 minutes of play at Yost Ice Arena, Michigan learned an important lesson Friday - no one will lie down for the Wolverines.
Northern Michigan made it a game when it looked like this one could be a blowout, scoring two second-period goals in outshooting the Maize and Blue 14-6 in the frame, and pushed U-M to the brink in the third before the Wolverines put the clamps on the Huskies.
"We all know that we didn't bring our A game out tonight," said senior forward Kevin Lynch, who netted both a power-play and a shorthanded goal. "There are a lot of things we have to clean up; we found out tonight that no matter how big of a lead you have early, you're not safe and that you have to play a full 60 minutes."
Michigan didn't play 60 minutes and head coach Red Berenson admitted after the contest he felt fortunate to escape with a victory in a contest in which his team was probably outplayed for more than half the evening. But, the Wolverines won because they scored three special-teams goals, and because in the third period, they skated with greater resolve than they had in the middle frame.
"We told them after the second period that we had to refocus on the things we came to do," Berenson said. "We were losing every footrace, every battle to the puck, every faceoff. And they thought they were playing hard, but they weren't playing desperate, and there's a difference.
"I think our team knows we're up against a tough team, much tougher than the score indicated in the first period. I thought we were lucky to score three goals on special teams and we were lucky we didn't give up any. The second period was all Northern and we were lucky to have the lead after two periods. After that we played our best period in the third. We didn't give up much."
Freshman goalie Steve Racine was again solid, though he had a chance to corral the puck that led to a rebound marker and NMU's second tally of the night. He probably can't afford to allow another one like that if Michigan wants to win Saturday and sweep the series, but then, his teammates need to dedicate themselves to playing strong in front of him for an entire game, not just the last 20 minutes.
"You don't know go forward unless you get by your first weekend series, and you don't get by that series unless you survive games like that," Berenson said. "A lot of our players learned how hard you have to play. This is playoff hockey in the CCHA."