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Big Ten: No 2 Michigan underwhelm as Wisconsin split series

The University of Michigan had all the momentum heading into their Big Ten Play opener against Wisconsin. They were the No 2 ranked team in the USCHO poll and had narrowly lost once in six outings (5-1-0) all season.

They had the quality according to online casinos.

Micigan is the first college hockey team to have seven first-round NHL draft picks on its roster. Four of them were among the first five selections earlier this year. They include defenseman Owen Power (first overall), forward Matty Beniers (second), defenseman Luke Hughes (third), forward Kent Johnson (fifth) and forward Mackie Samoskevich (24th) – plus two more Round 1 picks from previous drafts in forward Brendan Brisson (29th overall in 2020) and forward Johnny Beecher (30th overall in 2019).

Michigan averaged 4.50 goals per game to rank as the second-best scoring offence in the nation. The Wolverines lead the series with the Badgers 81-63-13 and had a six-game win streak snapped by the Badgers in their last meeting. But when it mattered the most, the Wolverines were lost.

Michigan began the series with a 3-0 victory over Wisconsin on Thursday at Yost Ice Arena. Sophomore forward Kent Johnson’s third goal of the season at the 4:02 mark of the second period gave the second-ranked side all the cushion they needed as sophomore Erik Portillo made 28 saves for his first career shutout. Nick Blankenburg notched the second goal late in the second period. Sophomore defenseman Owen Power, the 2021 No. 1 overall pick by the Buffalo Sabres, added some insurance with his second goal of the season 3:26 into the third period.

The Wolverines, who were predicted to finish second in the Big Ten this season by conference coaches, literally didn't show up for the second tie, losing 4-2. They trailed the Badgers 2-0 heading into the third period, but twice pulled to within goal. Despite firing 34 shots on net, Michigan’s two goals tied a season low.

Freshman forward Caden Brown and skipper Tarek Baker struck in the first and second periods respectively. Michigan scored on the power-play in the third period to make it a one-goal game. But Max Johnson quickly restored Wisconsin's two-goal lead, tapping in a rebound out in front of Michigan's net. The Wolverines continued to nip at the Badger's heels, scoring at the 10-minute mark to make it 3-2. Mackie Samoskevich netted the Wolverines goal, assisted by Jimmy Lambert and Erik Portillo.

"As the game went on, we got better getting to the net," head coach Mel Pearson said. "We were playing a little too individualistic. A guy would hold onto the puck too much instead of give-and-go and beat guys. We had to get to the net. But we did not want to go there and battle in front of the net. It is hard to go in there. They’re cross-checking you, getting a stick on you and pucks are coming in. We just did not want to pay that price and get to that area tonight, and that is a thing we will work on."

The Wolverines are one of the youngest teams in the nation, and assistant captain Jimmy Lambert reckons opponents are going to give them their best effort every game given the hype around Michigan this season.

"We got a lot of young guys," Lambert said via online casino games. "We said in the locker room after the game, ‘Goals are hard to come by. It’s always tight games and everyone is solid defensively. Everyone works really hard, physically, tight defensively.

"Everyone knows who we are. Everyone has high expectations for us and we have high expectations for ourselves. Man to man, I just think that we have to better, because it’s Big Ten time."

The Wolverines, though, outshot the Badgers 34-23 and dominated in the faceoff dot 34-22, but failed to overcome two back-breaking goals. With the comeback falling short, U-M drops to 6-2 on the season and 1-1 in conference play.

Michigan is home again next Friday against Michigan State before concluding the two-game series against the Spartans on Saturday in East Lansing.

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