After a disappointing series split against Michigan State last week, Michigan began to rebuild momentum for the season this weekend with a much needed sweep of Ohio State. The Wolverines and Buckeyes played a tight two periods on Friday before five of the six goals were scored in the final frame. Michigan built a comfortable 4-1 lead before Ohio State scored a garbage time goal to make the final score 4-2 Wolverines. On Saturday, Michigan took control from the start and shutout the Buckeyes, winning 5-0.
The defense responded
Michigan has had some difficulty this season with disrupting opposing teams’ offensive attack and taking care of the puck in the defensive zone. Both were much improved this series. In the first game, the Wolverines held Ohio State to just 21 shots. In the second game, the Buckeye’s shot production increased to 30 but nearly half of those came in the third period when Michigan had begun to back off the gas in light of their 5-0 lead. The Wolverines also didn’t surrender an even strength goal all weekend, with both of Ohio State’s goals in the first came coming on the power play. Playing a rival may have caused the team to play with a little more fire, for instance Michael Pastujov flung a Buckeye stick nearly back to Columbus on Saturday, but improved play is improved play—and hopefully Mel Pearson’s squad can keep it up going forward.
I can't tell you how far that went in the air but it was impressive pic.twitter.com/hxDYEdLJi1— Michigan Hockey (@umichhockey) January 17, 2021
Goaltending was stout, and the future is bright
Freshman Erik Portillo made his first collegiate start in net for the Wolverines on Friday and put in a strong performance. Portillo stopped 19 of the Buckeyes’ 21 shots. The first goal that he surrendered should have been disallowed because Ohio State was offside when they entered the zone. Even if the call to allow the goal was correct, the shot was deflected right in front of Portillo and there was nothing he could do. The second goal that he surrendered was also deflected right in front of him during a six on four right before the final buzzer. Portillo will be a strong replacement on nights when Strauss Mann is unavailable, and the team will be well served by Portillo when it comes time for him to be the starter. Speaking of Mann, he was characteristically strong in the Saturday game; stopping all 30 Buckeye shots and earning his third shutout of the season.
The offense got better as the series progressed
This Michigan team will live and die by its talented offense this year, and as this series progressed the offense kept getting better. The Wolverines weren’t able to find the net in the first period on Friday, but they kept at it and eventually the offense started to click. When you’re facing a formidable goalie like Ohio State’s Tommy Nappier, it’s important to convert on the chances you get. Johnny Beecher did just that on Saturday, putting home a breakaway chance in the opening minutes of the game to start off the scoring for the Wolverines. In all, Michigan tallied nine goals across the two games while facing the 2019 Big Ten Goalie of the Year—and that’s pretty impressive.
Michigan will next travel to Notre Dame where they’ll have an opportunity to avenge their sweep at the hands of the Fighting Irish earlier this season. The first game is on Thursday at 6:30 p.m. and the second game is on Friday at 6:30 p.m. Both games will be broadcast on NBCSN.