The Michigan Wolverines (22-11-3) are heading to the Big Ten Tournament semifinals after a two-game sweep of the lowly Wisconsin Badgers (13-23-0). While the Wolverines took both games at Yost, both games saw Michigan pushed to the brink.
After a 19-second burst in the third period of the first game, Michigan found itself on the wrong side of a 5-4 game in the blink of an eye. Despite four goals to this point, the Wolverines struggled to sustain any offensive zone pressure, generate momentum or quality scoring chances, and shake the general malaise that has haunted the Wolverines the last few games.
Wisconsin — which entered the weekend needing an unprecedented conference championship run to make the NCAA Tournament — came out with a sense of urgency and purpose in this No. 2 vs. No. 7 matchup.
A back and forth contest saw the Wolverines reeling late but as they pulled goaltender Erik Portillo, the Wolverines drew even — or so they thought. Adam Fantilli’s equalizing goal and third of the contest was quickly waved off after a review determined Portillo had not made it to the bench in time.
Play continued and with less than a minute to go, Michigan continued to apply desperate pressure in an attempt to escape Wisconsin’s upset bid. With 24 seconds remaining, Rutger McGroarty batted home a “second equalizer” and the two teams went to overtime.
In the extra period, Michigan continued to apply desperate pressure, but was afforded a goalie in the net with this surge. As the period neared the halfway point, the Wolverines iced this one from the most unlikely source.
Defenseman Steven Holtz rocketed home the game-winner from the point for his first career goal. Holtzy hit rock bottom in November while battling a life-threatening illness; a few short months later, he is the hero in the Big Ten Tournament.
In the second game, Michigan came out with a purpose. The Wolverines quickly jumped out to a 4-1 lead with less than three minutes gone in the second period. Fantilli — still angered his hat trick was wiped off the board in Game 1 — spitefully secured a hat trick before the halfway point in the second game.
But as the Wolverines had done several times early in the season, they blew the lead and found themselves deadlocked at four late in the third period.
With under three minutes to go, the Wolverines finally came back to life. First, it was Nolan Moyle who fired home the go-ahead goal from the doorstep. Then — less than a minute later — TJ Hughes netted a beautiful backhand, and Mackie Samoskevich added an empty-netter to seal the 7-4 victory.
Michigan will play the winner of Penn State/Ohio State — who are playing in a deciding Game 3 tonight — next weekend at Yost.
1-Adam Fantilli (5 G, 1 A, 6 PTS)
2-Gavin Brindley (4 assists)
3-Steven Holtz (First career goal: game winner in game one, 1 assist)