Michigan has lost nine times this season and this weekend it’ll get another crack at the team responsible for 44 percent of those losses.
The Wolverines will host Notre Dame on Saturday in the first Big Ten Tournament semifinal. The Irish won consecutive overtime games at Yost Ice Arena in November and wrapped up the regular season a couple weeks ago by downing Michigan 4-1 and 2-1 at home, denying the Wolverines their first Big Ten regular season title in the process.
Michigan finishing second in the conference standings meant both teams played last weekend. The Wolverines cruised to a sweep over Michigan State, winning 4-1 on Friday and 8-0 on Saturday, while Notre Dame was taken to a third game by Wisconsin. The Irish was able to end the Badgers’ season by winning 3-2 on Saturday and 4-2 on Sunday after dropping Friday’s contest 3-1.
Now the series aspect of the playoffs is over, and it’s win or you’re out for all the remaining teams. Both Michigan and Notre Dame have locked themselves into the NCAA tournament, so both are playing for seeding and conference hardware.
“Every game from here on in gets more important, starting with next Saturday,” Pearson said after the series-clinching victory over the Spartans. “You get into the single elimination now and you’ve got to make sure you’re prepared and you do everything you can to get ready.”
One would think that getting off to a good start on Saturday could help Michigan on Saturday, but Notre Dame hasn’t panicked when falling behind to the Wolverines this season. Michigan had a 2-0 lead in each game in Ann Arbor and jumped out to a 1-0 lead in the Friday game at South Bend. It is worth noting that the three-on-three style of overtime that the Irish used to their advantage for the road sweep won’t be used during the playoffs.
Even before the opponent was sorted out on Saturday, Pearson predicted that his players would be chomping at the bit when they rolled into this week.
“This team’s hungry, we’ve got guys that are driven,” he said. “They’ll be excited when we come back to the rink Monday and get back to work, I know that.”
Prediction: Michigan 4-3
While the first semifinal has two teams that know they will be in the NCAA tournament, the second features a Penn State team that must keep winning to keep playing.
The Nittany Lions will try for their second road win at Minnesota this season on Saturday. If they get it, it’ll probably be slightly more memorable than the one in November.
Minnesota head coach Bob Motzko said he knows how dangerous a lower-seeded team on a run can be.
“You’ve got to think that they’re one excited group,” he said during Minnesota’s media availability on Tuesday. “I’m sure that bus ride home from Columbus, I’ve been on that side before when you win a road series, there’s an adrenaline rush for their team. It’s like a new start, so we’ve got a hockey game here on Saturday night.”
Motzko added that he wasn’t thrilled that the only action his team saw last weekend was an intrasquad scrimmage, played in Austin, Minn., while the rest of the league was continuing to play games. He jokingly saying that the Big Ten should quickly add an eighth team.
“I’ve never done this, so I called around to the other coaches that have gone through the bye, (and) no one seems to like it,” Motzko said. “I didn’t like it before, now I’ve lived it, what do you do? Quick, let’s add an eighth team. Let’s get there.”
Two wins at Penn State are included in Minnesota’s current eight-game winning streak, but the Gophers had to battle back to get the sweep in the second game. Like every other coach in the league, Motzko stressed that the Nittany Lions are a formidable opponent.
“If you make a mistake, they’re dangerous and they’ll make you pay,” he said. “You have to be cautious when it’s time to be cautious. We have to get after them, but you can’t have blatant turnovers (or) missed nets, because you have got to get back. They play north as fast as any team you will see.”
Prediction: Minnesota 5-3