The Michigan Wolverines (25-9-1, 16-8) lost in regulation for the first time since Dec. 11 and did so again on Saturday. Notre Dame (24-8, 16-6) completed the season sweep of the Wolverines en route to denying Michigan their first ever Big Ten regular season title. Game 1 was 4-1 and Game 2 was 2-1.
Despite out-shooting Notre Dame in both games, Michigan’s high-powered offense was only able to generate one goal in each game. Chemistry issues plagued the Wolverines as they struggled to reintegrate their four Olympians into the flow of the game.
Finally, by the third period of the second game, the boys looked close to returning to form as Brendan Brisson and Owen Power assisted on an equalizing goal shot by Matty Beniers. While most expected the unit to take time to gel again, few saw a sluggish performance like Game 1 coming from them.
Sophomore net minder Erik Portillo struggled as much as he has all season in Game 1. The Swede gave up big rebounds, two of which resulted in goals. He also uncharacteristically misplayed a puck behind the net resulting in an easy score for the Irish.
Portillo was vastly better in Game 2, but another big rebound with just under four minutes to go was the nail in the coffin for the Wolverines on the weekend. With that said, Michigan was on the wrong side of two costly whistle/non-whistles in each game.
In Game 1, while holding a 10-4 shots advantage in a 1-1 game, a five-minute major was assessed retroactively to the Wolverines on a review conducted during the first intermission. One Portillo over-play later and Notre Dame is up 2-1 and would never trail again the rest of the weekend.
In Game 2, Michigan freshman forward Dylan Duke was steamrolled by Notre Dame forward Trevor Janicke and injured on the collision. Play carried on and Janicke (Duke’s man) was able to fire home the rebound game-winner with just over three minutes remaining.
Officiating did not solely doom the weekend for the Wolverines. Freshman sensation Luke Hughes was held in check and Michigan was dominated in the faceoff circle. Notre Dame’s defensive style is nearly impossible to crack while playing from behind and the Irish have had the Wolverines’ number this season.
But a gut-check weekend could not have come at a better time for the Wolverines. The Michigan hockey team was beginning to garner universal praise (or as Nick Saban calls it: “rat poison”) from the national media and was becoming the sexy pick to make a run at the NCAA Title.
Now that the team realizes how quickly everything can vanish right before their eyes, it is time to look in the mirror, re-calibrate and prepare for two postseason hockey tournaments for all the marbles.
Also, there might be one last chance at the Fighting Irish remaining.
The Michigan Wolverines will take on the Michigan State Spartans in the opening round of the Big Ten Tournament. This best-of-three series beginning this Friday, March 3 at 7 p.m., at Yost Ice Arena. Game 2 is scheduled for Saturday at 7 p.m. and the third game (if necessary) will be played on Sunday.
The Wolverines swept the four games over the Spartans in the regular season and if all higher seeds advance, Michigan would get one more shot at revenge against Notre Dame in the second round.
Sign me up for that.