Despite being outshot 42-20, the No. 1 Colorado College Tigers rode the goaltending of Richard Bachman to a 3-2 victory over the No. 4 Denver Pioneers in the second game of a home-and-home in front of 7,661 fans at the World Arena.
“We got to try and limit those (shots) the next time out, but a win’s a win,” said Bachman.
Denver came out flying, getting the best of the early chances. Bachman robbed Tyler Bozak from the top of the slot in the first few minutes, and Denver drew an early power play, keeping the Tigers on their heels. However, an ill-timed interference penalty on Tyler Ruegsegger negated the Pioneers’ advantage and allowed the Tigers to get their legs.
“We knew they were going to come out firing and they had a really good offense, so we just tried to play a little better defense than Friday night,” said Bachman. “They have a great offense and there’s not many ways to stop it.”
After Brian Gifford was called for hooking, the Tigers’ power play went to work. Standing behind the Pioneers’ net, Andreas Vlassopoulos spied Scott McCulloch near the left side hashmarks and slid a pass to him. McCulloch fired a wrist shot that beat Pioneers’ goalie Marc Cheverie short side at 6:40.
“I thought we came out with a good flurry and we made a bad turnover for their first goal,” said Pioneers’ coach George Gwozdecky. “Even strength we certainly generated a lot of chances, and Bachman was tremendous again. He had a couple of pucks that he didn’t even see.”
The referees took control of the rest of the period, calling a total of 10 penalties in the period. There was only 6:42 of five-on-five hockey. Despite a 13 second five-on-three advantage, the Pioneers were unable to solve Bachman.
“They’re going as good as anyone in the country right now offensively and we knew there were going to be a ton of shots,” said Tigers’ coach Scott Owens. “This has been our formula all season long now. We’re not scoring, we’re taking a lot of penalties, but but the penalty killing’s been good and the goaltending’s been unbelievable.”
It looked like the period would end with the Tigers up by one, but with under a minute left, Vlassopoulos took a pass from Addison DeBoer and broke down the left side, skating between Gifford and Cody Brookwell and fired a shallow angle wrist shot that eluded Cheverie and found the top right corner at 19:18.
“We were just trying to be aggressive and that keyed those two goals,” said Vlassopoulos. “It wasn’t a strong shot or anything. I was just trying to get it on net. I think we were in the middle of a change or something and DeBoer made a nice play off the boards. I picked it up and two of them backed off me and gave me a lane. I just wanted to take a shot and go back to the bench. For some reason they let me go again. I don’t know how it got through. I was just trying to get it on net.”
The Pioneers started the second period with jump despite the late goal. On an early power play, the Pioneers generated a lot of pressure, keeping the Tigers pinned in their zone for most of the power play. Joe Colborne fired a laser from the bottom of the left circle that Bachman just stopped.
“It’s unbelievable the confidence we play with with him back there,” said Vlassopoulos. “The saves he makes night in, night out are unbelievable. We don’t even know what to say about some of the saves he makes.”
Bozak finally got the Pioneers on the board at the 7:00 minute mark of the second. He broke in two-on-one with Luke Salazar and tried to thread a pass to him through the crease. However, the pass hit Brian Connelly’s skate and came right back to Bozak, who fired it top shelf past Bachman.
“They played a smart game and forced us to try to get back in the game,” said Gwozdecky. “There’s certainly times this weekend where we had guys wide open and we drilled it right into his midsection. You don’t have to be a spectacular goaltender to stop a puck that’s drilled into your midsection. Some of our better shooters had those opportunities.”
With momentum from Bozak’s goal, the Pioneers put relentless pressure on Bachman, hoping to get the equalizer. However, Bachman stood strong, facing down 18 shots in the second period.
“We’re not moving our feet very well right now and we’re being forced to take a lot of penalties,” said Owens. “We play a very aggressive penalty kill style and it makes them tired.”
Unlike in Friday night’s game, the Tigers were able to get their two-goal lead back late in the second. Fourth-line forward Nick Dineen, who generated plays all game long, broke up the right side and slid a pass to Ryan Lowery on the far left post, and Lowery rifled it past Cheverie at 13:53.
The Pioneers finally closed to within one late in the third period with a power-play goal. Patrick Mullen found Ruegsegger down low and Ruegsegger roofed it short side at 14:44.
“There’s a reason they’re the number one team in the country,” said Gwozdecky. “Everybody’s got to execute, and they executed better than we did in the crucial situations. You can make excuses, and look at different reasons, but the bottom line is the better team in their execution of their plan won tonight and both games of the series we’re scrambling to get back in the game.”
The Tigers got a power play late in the third but were unable to convert.
With just over a minute, Gwozdecky pulled Cheverie to look for the tying goal. Patrick Wiercioch had a beautiful chance with 58 seconds left, taking the puck at the right side crease with time to shoot, but Bachman made a highlight-reel save.
“You have tunnel vision when you have a lot of shots like that, so it’s nice to just get in a rhythm and just keep going with it,” said Bachman.
That was the best chance the Pioneers had. The Tigers kept pushing the puck out to the neutral zone and took the occasional icing, and when the Pioneers did line up a shot, the Tigers’ forwards sacrificed the body to block them.
“We’ve played so many close games, regardless of how unattractive they’ve been, that we’re actually getting pretty good at them,” said Owens. “There’s no panic point. Obviously I’d be singing a different tune if Bachman doesn’t make a couple of glove saves down the stretch, but for the most part we’ve been hanging in there and going from there. We were very, very fortunate this weekend, there’s no doubt.”