BOSTON — Carter Savoie followed up his own rebound with 5:07 left in overtime to lift Denver to a 3-2 win over Michigan on Thursday night at the Frozen Four. Denver advanced to Saturday's national championship game.
After Denver kept in a Michigan clear attempt, Bobby Brink fed Savoie for a one-time chance in front which Eric Portillo stopped, but Savoie followed up his own rebound to give the Pioneers the victory.
"They turned the puck over at the top of the blue line," Savoie said. "I tried to pass it down to Bob, and it hit a skate but he was able to get it back and then he made a great play on that pass and I was just able to get to the rebound. It's an unbelievable feeling. We have a chance to win a championship. There's no better feeling than that."
Denver advanced to its first title game since it won the national championship in 2017.
Denver opened the scoring when Brett Stapley's 17th goal of the season gave the Pioneers a 1-0 lead at the 11:22 mark of the first period. Justin Lee took the initial shot and Ryan Barrow moved the rebound over to Stapley who scored the goal and gave the Denver fans near the Pioneers' bench a stick salute as he skated past them.
But Denver's stifling defense was the story of the first 20 minutes. Michigan did not register a shot on goal in the first 16:04 of the game, finally landing a puck on Magnus Chrona with 3:56 left in the first period.
"You don't have a choice if you want to be successful this time of year," Denver coach David Carle said. "Teams don't win 6-4 in games like this, generally. You have to be comfortable in tight-checking games."
In his comments on Wednesday, Michigan head coach Mel Pearson talked about how he thought it was imperative for his team to get off to a good start.
"Mel harped on us all week about how it's all about the start,” said senior forward Garrett Van Wyhe. “From that aspect, we need to take accountability."
Pearson added, "The first period they had a third guy back all the time and we tried to carry the puck through that. It created too many turnovers."
The Wolverines had some jump in the second period and their fourth line provided the spark.
After struggling to generate a quality scoring chance for much of the first 25 minutes, Michigan's Nolan Moyle stayed strong on the puck and cut to the net with the puck on his backhand. He wasn't able to generate a shot and the puck slid behind the goal line. As Denver tried to break it out, Van Wyhe forced a turnover and sent the puck back down low to Moyle, who was able to feed Jimmy Lambert in front for the game-tying goal.
Denver had held Michigan to just nine shots on goal through the second period (the Pioneers had a 16-9 edge).
Denver took the lead with 14:21 left in the third period. Defenseman Mike Benning snapped off a wrist shot and Cameron Wright was able to get his stick on it inside the slot. The puck deflected up and over the shoulder of Michigan goaltender Erik Portillo. It was Wright's team-leading 22nd goal of the season.
After the Wright goal, Matty Beniers' line had one of the best shifts of the game for the Wolverines, but despite a slew of chances on the doorstep in front of Chrona, they weren't able to slip the puck into the net.
Moments later, Michigan defenseman Luke Hughes turned the puck over at the blue line, and Savoie nearly capitalized to double the lead, but Portillo made a huge save to keep the game within reach for Michigan. Seconds after that, another sloppy turnover gave Carter Mazur a scoring chance from the right slot, but Portillo flashed his glove to keep the puck out.
On the ensuing faceoff, Brett Stapley won the draw clean back to Antti Tuomisto but his shot was blocked by Mark Estapa. Michael Pastujov won a race to the loose puck and got it to the net where Thomas Bordeleau found a way to slip it back Chrona with 10:51 to play.
Just 47 seconds after tying the game, Brendan Brisson hit Ryan Barrow into the wall as he was turning and was called for boarding.
Denver had chances on the power play, including another tip by Wright which Portillo stopped. Shai Buium had an open-net chance on a one-timer fed by Massimo Rizzo, but he got under the puck and it sailed over the net. Michigan killed off the rest of the penalty to Brisson.
With 5:31 left, Michigan's Mackie Samoskevich got up underneath Mazur and hauled him down which drew a holding call and put the Pioneers back on the power play.
Denver mustered just one shot on goal during the power play and didn't score and the game headed to overtime.
Denver survived the opening minutes of overtime despite icing the puck three times in the first four minutes.
Brisson had the first quality scoring chance of the overtime at about the halfway mark, chipping a pass from Bordeleau towards the net but Chrona was able to come across and get his pad on the puck.
"We knew on the pre-scout it would be a pass," Chrona said. "I saw it early and I prepared myself for a quick touch on that and luckily I was able to make the save."
"When mistakes happened, Magnus was there to shut the door," Carle added. "Those were exceptional and kept us in the hockey game."
After Denver sustained pressure for the next several minutes, Michigan iced the puck and Pearson opted to use his timeout to allow for a line change with 7:57 left. Immediately following Michigan's timeout, David Carle called his for the extra rest.
Luke Hughes had a scoring chance on a 2-on-1 with 6:17 left in overtime but Chrona ate up the shot with his midsection and held onto the rebound.
That set the stage for Savoie's heroics.