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DU Pioneers shut out in opening game of NCHC tournament

Denver now faces elimination from the tournament, needing consecutive wins to stay alive

NCAA Hockey: Frozen Four-Denver vs Minnesota-Duluth Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports

For the defending NCAA champion Denver Pioneers, a hopeful 2018 title run got off to a very shaky start Friday night. Second-seeded DU was shut down in a 2-0 loss at the hands of #7 Colorado College in the first game of the teams’ best-of-three opening round series at Magness Arena. Denver now has its back against the wall, needing wins Saturday and Sunday to advance into the semifinals.

CC goaltender Alex Leclerc made 37 saves to shut down Denver’s usually-potent offense, which averages 3.32 goals per game (ninth in the NCAA). Leclerc has had Denver’s number of late, recording consecutive shutouts with a streak of 128 minutes of scoreless hockey. He is the only goalie to blank the Pioneers all season.

As they sometimes have this year in games that end up not going their way, DU did look like the team playing better for much of the contest. Denver controlled puck possession early and kept pucks off senior goaltender Tanner Jaillet, who started the contest after an injury scare in the team’s final regular season game. A scoreless first period ended with Denver taking 11 shots on goal to CC’s 7.

Both teams went on the power play for the first time in the second period, but neither could manage to crack the scoreboard. In the final minute of the period, CC’s Zach Berzolla was called for hooking to give Denver another man advantage for the final 45 seconds. After a pair of saves by Leclerc, the buzzer sounded on another scoreless period. DU led again in shots, 12-7.

The remaining 1:15 on the DU power play expired after a pair of blocked shots. Despite letting through 37 shots on Leclerc, the CC defense broke up many more chances on their own, blocking 25 shots in total.

Just after the five minute mark, CC got its second power play chance as DU freshman Ryan Barrow was whistled for hooking. It only took a face off win and five seconds for the Tigers to cash in, as Westin Michaud buried home a rebound off a Kristian Blumenschein shot.

Things went from bad to worse for DU as the period neared the halfway mark. At 9:27, CC turned another face-off win into offense, as Mason Bergh snuck a shot through traffic and past Jaillet. For Bergh, who earned NCHC Honorable Mention distinction, it was his second goal this year against the Pioneers and 16th overall.

With the game slipping away, Denver lost control of the dominant puck possession which they had enjoyed throughout the first two periods. DU was given another golden opportunity with the man advantage at 13:30, but again could not get shots through the CC defense or past Leclerc to cut the lead in half.

Jaillet was pulled for the extra attacker with just under 2:30 to go, but Leclerc held strong in the final minutes to complete the shutout and silence Magness Arena.

The win is CC’s first in the postseason since the 2014 NCHC first round against North Dakota and it’s also their second win in a row against Denver after going winless against their rival for 17 consecutive matchups.

Around the rest of the NCHC, all other home teams — #1 St. Cloud State, #3 Minnesota Duluth and #4 North Dakota — opened their series’ with wins.

Saturday’s game two is another 7 PM MT puck drop. It can be seen on and heard on ESPN Denver 1600.