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February 25, 2013Don't look now but the Michigan hockey team is 4-2-0 in its last six games after earning its first road sweep of the season in besting Ohio State 5-3 and 6-3 Feb. 22-23. What does this mean for U-M's postseason aspirations? We discuss in today's three questions.
Has Michigan changed its NCAA fortune with two wins over the Buckeyes?
While the wins were a big step in the right direction, they didn't make much of a dent in the Pairwise rankings, where U-M still sits outside the top 31. Michigan lists 41st in the RPI also. No, the only path to the NCAA Tournament remains the same as it did a week ago and will remain the same even if the Maize and Blue sweep Ferris State at Yost this upcoming weekend - by winning the CCHA Tournament.
Anything short of that and the Wolverines will not extend their college hockey record to 23 consecutive NCAA appearances.
Who will U-M face in the first round of the CCHA playoffs?
With its sweep, Michigan earned six points and moved into ninth place in the conference standings (31 points), just one point shy of Lake Superior (32) for the coveted eighth positioning. The Wolverines are within three points of seventh place, but are unlikely to leapfrog Bowling Green (34 points).
If U-M finishes ahead of LSSU, in eighth, it will host a first-round playoff series at Yost Ice Arena March 8-10, likely against the Lakers or Northern Michigan (29 points), which is also competing for the eighth spot. Michigan has all but eliminated the possibility of playing at Alaska in the opening round.
The Maize and Blue grapple with fourth-place Ferris State, which is just 2-4-1 in its last seven, while Lake Superior State and Northern Michigan square off. A great number of scenarios are possible but the Wolverines desperately need another sweep. Do that, and it's very likely they host. Anything less than that, and they're probably headed on the road the opening weekend.
Has Michigan captured some offensive swagger?
The Wolverines have scored 27 goals in their last six games (4.50 per game), including 11 total markers in besting the Buckeyes. Sophomores Alex Guptill and Phil Di Giuseppe, who were being counted on when the season started to lead U-M's offense, combined for five goals and two assists over the weekend, and have seven goals and eight helpers in Michigan's past six contests after disappointing for most of the year.
If they can continue to peak, and the Maize and Blue receive contributions from other talents, they could just score enough to offset their poor defense and goaltending.
However, in the playoffs, scoring becomes more difficult, and the Wolverines must show greater commitment in their own zone. Even this weekend, they surrendered six goals on 60 shots (a meager .900 save percentage).
Freshman goalie Steve Racine earned both starts in Columbus and will be the starter Friday against FSU, with the potential to start both games if he plays well, but he hasn't locked up the job quite yet. Head coach Red Berenson would like that to be the case so his team can rally around a single netminder, but as Michigan's goalies have shown throughout the year - one good game or good weekend has rarely led to two in a row.
If Racine can play well enough Friday and Saturday, he would at least give the Wolverines a little bit of confidence heading into the postseason.
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