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Michigan Hockey Series Preview: Minnesota

Conference supremacy is on the line in Minneapolis.

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

The Michigan Wolverines (18-6-1, 9-5-0 Big Ten) are rolling. Well, rolling as well as one can do on ice.

Winners of four straight, including two against defending national champions UMass and more recently two against Penn State to complete the season sweep over the Nittany Lions.

The No. 3/4 ranked Wolverines have not lost a game since Dec. 11 and now turn their attention to the No. 11 Minnesota Golden Gophers (13-9, 8-4 Big Ten).

Michigan split its home series against Minnesota the first weekend of December, but also suffered its worst loss at Yost of the season, 5-1.

This is a critical series for the Big Ten, where the Wolverines currently sit in first (29 points) and the Gophers are third (25 points). Minnesota had won five straight since losing to the Wolverines in December before losing at home last week to Alaska, 3-2.

As noted for the first series with the Gophers, if you like offense, this is the series for you. Both teams rank among the top 15 in almost every category including scoring offense, where the Wolverines are No. 5 (3.84 goals-per-game) and Minnesota is No. 12 (3.50). However, until last week, the Gophers had not scored less than four goals in a game since their trip to Ann Arbor.

The players to watch on Minnesota are their trio of forwards: Ben Meyers (9 G, 16 A, 25 points), Matthew Knies (8 G, 15 A, 23 points) and Blake McLaughlin (7, 14, 21 points) who is currently riding a six-game points streak.

In their first meeting, whichever team won the first period won the game, so look for both teams to start fast and for the Minnesota trio to try and keep pace with Michigan’s lethal scoring threats.

Brendan Brisson (15 G, 15 A, 30 points), Matty Beneirs (14 G, 16 A, 30 points) and Kenny Johnson (6 G, 23 A, 29 points) lead the Big Ten in points, and defenseman Owen Power (3 G, 21 A, 24 points) leads the country in blueline scorers.

Moreover, the Wolverines enter this contest with a favorable goaltending matchup after veteran Gopher goalie Jack LaFontaine signed with the NHL. Replacing LaFontaine is inexperienced junior Justen Close, who has posted a .902 career save percentage in 10 games and is 1-1 since inheriting the starting position last week.

Can the Wolverines take advantage of Close, extend their winning steak to six and extend their lead in the Big Ten?

How to watch:

The conference clash begins Friday at 8 p.m. EST (TV: ESPNU; Stream: WatchESPN) and the weekend finale is scheduled for Saturday at 6:30 p.m. EST (TV: Big Ten Network; Stream: FOX Sports App).