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Hockey splits series against Minnesota to conclude regular season

The Wolverines also clinched the No. 3 seed in the upcoming Big Ten Tournament

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

Michigan hockey traveled to Minneapolis this week for their final series of the regular season. When the dust settled on Saturday evening, the Wolverines and the Minnesota Golden Gophers had each taken one game. On Friday, Michigan jumped out to the 3-1 lead after two periods en route to a 5-2 win. On Saturday, Minnesota never trailed in a back-and-forth game which the Golden Gophers won by the score of 4-2.

Wolverines finished in the first game, didn’t in the second

Looking at the stats for these two games, you would think that Michigan had lost both. The Wolverines were out shot in the first game, 19-30, and in the second game, 24-27. The corsi differential in the first game, which the Wolverines won, was 50-34 in Minnesota’s favor. What Michigan did do in the first game was finish opportunities. In the second period on Friday, Kent Johnson found the puck in a scrum in front of Minnesota’s goal and tucked it up under the bar. In the third period, Nick Granowicz took advantage of a quirky rebound off a Matty Beniers shot and buried it. On Saturday, the Wolverines weren’t able to find the net quite like they did on Friday. Michigan looked good, but Minnesota looked better.

Michigan can make a run in the Big Ten Tournament

With the split against Minnesota, the Wolverines have earned the No. 3 seed in the Big Ten Tournament which is set to start on Sunday March 14th. The Wisconsin Badgers secured the No. 1 seed, with Minnesota taking the No. 2 seed, Notre Dame the No. 4 seed, Penn State the No. 5 seed, Ohio State the No. 6 seed, and Michigan State the No. 7 seed. The Wolverines will play their first game of the tournament against Ohio State at 8:30 p.m. on the 14th. Michigan has a 3-1 record against Ohio State this season, out-scoring the Buckeyes 17-5. If the Wolverines win, they’ll likely face Minnesota, who plays Michigan State in the first round. If Michigan can beat Minnesota, they’ll face a team that they have—at worst—split their season series with in the championship game.

The Wolverines have a tournament-caliber resume

Is one win against Minnesota and whatever happens in the Big Ten Tournament good enough to get the Wolverines into the NCAA Tournament? It’s not clear, but it might be. Head coach Mel Pearson seems to think it is, saying after the win of Friday that “I think we’re in the tournament.” The Wolverines have wins against teams that are almost definitely in the tournament, like three against Wisconsin and now one against Minnesota. And Michigan did move up in the pairwise rankings to No. 17 after the series against Minnesota. Normally, this would mean that the Wolverines are on the outside looking in—as there are only 10 at-large bids after the six winners of the conference tournaments get their spots. However, it’s a weird, COVID-impacted year and the pairwise rankings may not be the be all, end all they normally are. CollegeHockeyNews thinks Michigan is in. Are they? We’ll find out when the bracket is released on March 21st at 7:00 p.m., or sooner if the Wolverines win the Big Ten Tournament.

Michigan will be back in action on March 14th against Ohio State in the first round of the Big Ten Tournament. That game is scheduled to start at 8:30 p.m. and will be broadcast on the Big Ten Network.