|B1G Freshman of the Year Dylan Larkin (left) lived up to the title as he produced a four-point night in Michigan's 5-1 victory over Wisconsin in a quarterfinal game of the conference tournament. (Photo by Dave Reginek/Detroit Red Wings)
Everything seemed to go Michigan’s way Thursday night as freshman Dylan Larkin
’s four-point night propelled the Wolverines to a 5-1 win over Wisconsin in a Bin Ten quarterfinal game at Joe Louis Arena.
The win marked the first time that UM had beaten the same opponent five times in one season since the team did so against Michigan State in 2008-09. It was also the fourth time this season that Larkin, who was the Red Wings' first-round draft pick last summer, reached the four-point plateau in a single game.
The Wolverines were able to exploit a favorable match-up on the power play in the game’s early stages. With the second-ranked power play in the B1G, UM’s 24.8 percent efficiency went up against UW’s conference-worst 74.6 percent penalty kill after Jake Linhart was called for boarding.
Working the puck around the perimeter on a 1-3-1 power play, defenseman Zach Werenski moved the puck from his spot at the blue line to his right where Larkin was positioned at the top of the circle. Larkin made a quick catch-and-release, firing the puck on goal where line mate Zach Hyman was assuming the net-front position. Hyman redirected Larkin’s initial shot, ricocheted off the left goal-post behind UW goalie Joel Rumpel and back in front, where Hyman swatted the rebound into the open net with 5:15 remaining in the opening period.
“It’s huge, I mean we all want to start off well,” Hyman said. “That’s been a big emphasis on us all year, starting well in the first and I thought that was good for us. It helped us a lot.”
Early in the second period, defenseman Andrew Sinelli initiated a breakout as he came around the UM net and made a pass to Cristoval Nieves on the half-wall. Nieves then carried the puck through the neutral zone and left a drop-pass for Sinelli at the blue line. Trailing the play, Sinelli fired a wrist shot that was immediately deflected by a Badgers defenseman and the puck arced through the air, end-over-end past Rumpel. A fluky goal but great execution by the Wolverines to go end-to-end and turn a breakout in the defensive zone into a scoring attempt in the offensive zone.
“When we’re playing well, that’s what we’ll do,” Wolverines coach Red Berenson said. “We’ll move the puck out of our zone well and with some authority and create a rush whether its an out-numbered rush or not…but I liked that we came out of our own zone clean.”
More strange things continued to happen in the second, as Larkin was the only person on the ice to acknowledge the Wolverines’ third goal of the game.
Just two minutes after Sinelli’s fortuitous play, defenseman Cutler Martin sent a quick wrist shot at the net that sifted its way through Hyman and Badgers Jedd Soleway and Tim Davison. The puck went out of sight for a moment as players and officials paused before Larkin indicated the puck was lodged between the netting and the back bar. The play was whistled dead and taken to review, only to find that it was in fact a good goal, credited to Hyman who had his second of the game.
Not all the breaks went UM’s way, however, as goalie Steve Racine was called for a delay of game penalty with 56.3 seconds remaining in the second period.
While sliding from left to right, Racine’s blocker came off and flew through the air, landing behind the net. The junior goaltender was left with an exposed hand and play continued for some time before Racine intentionally dislodged the net to stop play and alert the referees. After some deliberation, the play was deemed a delay of game and forward Dexter Dancs served the penalty.
“We thought there would be a whistle but there is not a whistle if you lose your glove as a goalie,” Berenson said. “Otherwise, a goalie could be throwing his glove down any time, but I guess he bumped the net off and that was a delay of game.”
Larkin capped off the night, adding a goal and an assist in the final five minutes of regulation, putting the game out of reach and sealing the UM victory. The Red Wings' prospect corralled the puck at the top of the circles in his own zone and took control of the game as he carried the puck up ice. Larkin simply used his speed and skated wide past defenders, attacking the Badgers net from the bottom of the left face-off circle. Larkin then poked the puck between Rumpel’s legs with an impressive individual effort.
Three minutes later, Larkin would add another assist on a beautiful tic-tac-toe sequence initiated by Hyman. The B1G’s leading scorer in the regular season sent a pass from behind the net to Larkin in the slot, who one-touched the puck over to Justin Selman. With an open net, Selman capped off the play with his first of the game for a 5-1 final score in favor of the Wolverines.
For Larkin and Hyman to produce four goals in a quarterfinal game bodes well as the Wolverines’ top line had only accounted for four goals in the previous four games of the regular season.
“I think that we rely on all of our lines,” Hyman said. “We’re not a one-line team by any means. For us, personally, we just want to have good games, play well offensively and defensively. Put our chances in, we had a lot of chances over the weekend against State and we didn’t get them in. Today, we were lucky and we got a few in, so it was good.”
That momentum should propel them into a rivalry rematch when UM takes on the Spartans in Friday night’s semifinal match-up at 8 p.m. at Joe Louis Arena, just seven days after meeting in the regular-season finale.