Who: Michigan vs. Minnesota
Where: Mariucci Arena, Minneapolis, Minnesota
When: 8pmCST on Friday night, 7pmCST on Saturday
Television: Friday: Big Ten Network; Saturday: Fox Sports North+/Fox Sports Detroit+
When the Big Ten Conference schedule was released this summer, it was pretty easy to point to this weekend's series between Michigan and Minnesota at Mariucci Arena as one of the key series on the slate. It definitely is, as it features the only two Big Ten teams currently inside the NCAA tournament bubble. But no one could have guesed the path to get to this point, and the current circumstances of each team.
Contrary to everyone's preseason expectations, it's the host Minnesota that desperately needs the wins. A dreadful 4-8-2 stretch in the middle of the season took Minnesota from the number one ranking to being in serious jeopardy of missing the NCAA tournament. Minnesota needs to close with an 8-2-0 record in their final ten games to have a good shot at earning an at-large bid in the NCAA tournament. These two games against Michigan, a team that swept them a month ago in Ann Arbor, are likely the two most difficult remaining on the schedule. The Gophers seemed to turn things around a bit last weekend with a confident sweep over Ohio State. This weekend will be a big test to see if they have completely righted the ship.
Michigan has taken nearly the opposite path as Minnesota. After starting the season with a 4-6-0 record, it looked like the Wolverines would miss the NCAA tournament for the third straight season. But the Wolverines are 12-2-0 since that point and have risen to 12th in the Pairwise Rankings. They're not comfortably in the NCAA tournament field quite yet, but are definitely trending in that direction. A solid result this weekend would go a long way in solidifying their status inside the tournament bubble.
The key match-up in this series will be whether Minnesota's defense will be able to find a way to control Michigan's explosive offense, led by a top line that features Hobey Baker candidate Zach Hyman and one of the best freshmen in the country in Dylan Larkin. The duo combined to score ten points in the first meeting between the two teams. Minnesota will need a much better performance from their defense, and a stronger game in goal from Adam Wilcox.
These should be a pair of wide open hockey games with a lot of fast-paced offense, and likely a lot of goals scored, which should make for a very entertaining weekend of hockey.