“We’re not worried about surprising people. We’re worried about us,” junior Ben Israel said before leaving for Colorado College’s first-round playoff series at Denver.
The Tigers managed both Friday night. Alex Leclerc posted a 37-save shutout as Colorado College took Game 1 of a best-of-three National Collegiate Hockey Conference quarterfinal series, 2-0 at Magness Arena.
It was the type of low-scoring game Colorado College has enjoyed and won all season, with an extra physical edge. The Tigers broke open a 0-0 tie in the third period and withstood an impassioned late push from the defending national champions.
It was the first collegiate playoff win for coach Mike Haviland and every player on the Tigers’ roster.
“It’s our first win in a long time for CC hockey in the playoffs,” junior Westin Michaud said. “We’re excited, but we know they’re going to come ready to play tomorrow, and we need to be ready.
Five seconds into a power play a quarter of the way through the third period, Michaud - parked in front of DU goaltender Tanner Jaillet - was perfectly placed to gather a Kristian Blumenschein rebound, send the slightest of glances toward the net and swing the puck around the goaltender.
Four minutes, 20 seconds later, co-captain Mason Bergh added insurance. His shot from close in slipped under Jaillet and made it 2-0.
“I didn’t really aim, just kind of shot it on net, hoping for something, and it squeaked in there,” Bergh said. “It was kind of lucky, but I’ll take it.”
A scoreless deadlock lasted through the second period. Denver created bumper-to-bumper traffic in front of Leclerc, but the sophomore scrambled for 14 saves in the middle period.
Leclerc, who blanked the Pioneers at home in February, eventually stretched his shutout streak at Magness Arena to 1:27:28.
It took more than two intense minutes of 6-on-5 play with Jaillet pulled. But Haviland and his players were satisfied with the way they kept the Pioneers to the perimeter and took away shooting lanes.
“We did a good job of getting the puck, recovering it, chipping it out and living for another day,” Michaud said.
Colorado College caught a massive break when leading scorer and NCHC first-team all-conference selection Nick Halloran’s leg absorbed the brunt of a second-period hit. Halloran got off the ice on his own and went down the tunnel, but returned after missing a few shifts.
Defenseman and assistant captain Cole McCaskill was injured late in the third period behind his own net and didn’t play another shift.
He returned to the bench, though, to see his team win its first playoff game since March 15, 2014.
“The hardest thing to do is to win that last one,” Haviland said. “I understand that, and I know that staff over there (in the Denver locker room) understands that. We’ve gotta come back the same way, if not harder, because I’m sure they’re going to up the ante.”