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Big Ten Showdown: Michigan vs. Minnesota hockey series preview

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A tough series lies ahead for Michigan.

COLLEGE HOCKEY: DEC 08 Minnesota at Michigan Photo by Scott W. Grau/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

After sweeping Niagara a week ago, the No. 3 ranked Michigan Wolverines’ hockey team takes on No. 11 Minnesota at Yost Ice Arena this weekend in a matchup that features the top two teams currently in the Big Ten standings.

Michigan is one point a head Minnesota with 17 points to the Golden Gopher’s 16. They both have a conference record of 5-3 overall. Minnesota leads the all-time series with 19 wins, 12 losses and four ties. The Gophers have won six of the last 10, including the most recent last season on March 15.

The Gophers are coming off a series split last weekend against hated rival and No. 7 North Dakota; they won 5-1 on Friday and lost 3-2 on Saturday.

Minnesota is lead offensively by forwards Ben Meyers (5 G, 11 A, 16 points) and Matthew Knies — 2021, Round 2 (No. 57 overall) by Toronto — and Ben McLaughlin — 2018, Round 3 (No. 79 overall) by Anaheim — with 15 points each. Scoring hasn’t been a problem for Minnesota, as it ranks seventh in the country in goals for and second in the Big Ten behind the Wolverines, but keeping the puck out of the net has been more of a concern for them. Goalie Jack LaFontaine has played and started in all 16 games with a save percentage of just .899 and goals against of 2.66. The team is tied for 28th nationally in save percentage.

Power Play Battle

Both teams have the two best power plays coming into the Big Ten and rank in the top 10 nationally. These are two teams with a lot of NHL draft picks on both sides and have the ability to really make the other one pay for mistakes. Look for this probable high scoring series to have special teams play a pivotal role.

Goaltending

Michigan definitely holds the upper hand stats-wise when it comes to goalies with Erik Portillo, but it has given up more goals and chances against stiffer competition as of late. It was an issue two weeks ago against a high-powered offense in Notre Dame, and now the Wolverines face a more talented group in Minnesota. The good news for the Wolverines is they’re never really out of any game they play because of how quickly they can score. If this turns into a track meet, Michigan should have the advantage because it can count on Portillo to almost always make the saves he’s supposes to.

Offense, Offense and More Offense

If you like goals, this is a series for any casual observer to watch. These teams are both top 10 in almost every offensive category and neither lack future NHL talent. Both programs have three players who have been selected for the U.S world junior preliminary camp, which takes place this month. To alter a quote from Jim Harbaugh, “The real winner in this game is hockey (football).” This should be entertaining to watch for even the most novice sports fan thanks to the talent level of both these programs.

Puck drop on Friday is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. Saturday’s matchup is set for a 7 p.m. start. Both games will be on Big Ten Network.