The No. 6 Michigan Wolverines (16-9-1) are white hot right now having won four of six games versus top-10 opponents, including three in a row for the first time since October. Michigan is currently in fifth place in the conference, but only trails second place Penn State by three points.
While No. 1 Minnesota has a stranglehold on the conference, Penn State, Ohio State, Notre Dame and the Wolverines will jockey for pivotal conference tournament position over the next four weeks. This weekend, Michigan will welcome the Wisconsin Badgers (10-16), who — despite being in last place in the Big Ten — hold a regulation victory over the Wolverines on the season.
In their first meeting, the Badgers caught the Wolverines napping after an early two-goal lead and ended up storming back to upset Michigan, 6-3. It was Wisconsin’s first Big Ten win of the season. The Wolverines took the second game, 4-2, but Michigan is aware that this time it cannot take anything for granted.
Wisconsin — riding a three-game losing streak — is led by its only 20-point scorer Cruz Lucius (9 G, 17 A, 26 PTS), who is 10 points clear of the second leading scorer on the team. On the blue line, Corson Ceulemanns is the offensive anchor (6 G, 9 A, 15 PTS), while Daniel Laatsch holds down the defensive responsibilities and has blocked a team-high 42 shots.
In net, Wisconsin goalie Jared Moe has secured four shutouts on the strength of his respectable .913 save percentage.
KEYS TO THE GAME
- Friday night shots. Michigan has cured its Friday night lethargy the last two series with a win and a nail-biting OT loss at Minnesota. However, in both opening games the Wolverines placed a massive burden on goaltender Erik Portillo, who stopped 44 shots the first night facing the Gophers and a staggering 51 against Penn State. In the second games of each series, Portillo was only required to make 26 saves against Minnesota and 32 against Penn State to secure wins in both games. The Wolverines must relieve some of the game one burden on Super Swede, who has steadily improved his save percentage (.909) and is now fifth in the country in saves (706)
- Stay awake at the wheel. Michigan massively overlooked Wisconsin in the first meeting and this is a Badgers team that excels at being counted out. Despite struggling in the conference, Wisconsin is 7-3 in the non-conference including a road sweep over Minnesota Duluth. This is not a great team, but is far from terrible, and Michigan must put it away.
- Let stars be stars. The Wolverines have some injuries mounting up and will need their two stars — Adam Fantilli and Luke Hughes — to carry the load this weekend. Both players are fresh off a seven-point weekend, including Hughes who had a career-high four goals against Penn State. With question marks up and down the roster, these two will need to stay hot in order for Michigan to extend their winning streak to five.
WHEN: Friday, Feb. 3, 7 p.m. / Saturday, Feb. 4, 7 p.m.
WHERE: Ann Arbor, MI; Yost Arena
HOW TO WATCH: Friday, Saturday BIG+
HOW TO LISTEN: Varsity Podcast Network