Julia Schachinger/Daily. Buy this photo.

After a third period breakdown against Quinnipiac almost cost it a spot in the Frozen Four, the Michigan hockey team thinks it has its problems figured out.

With the Wolverines set to take on NCHC champion Denver Thursday in the national semifinal, the timing couldn’t be more important. Facing a team that matches up well against their strengths, there won’t be room to give up any more big leads.

“Sometimes you get comfortable when you have a lead,” Michigan coach Mel Pearson said. “The things that happened in those games were very fixable. As a coach, you’re a little concerned, but not overly.”

That limited concern makes sense considering how well the Wolverines have defended through most of the season. It was a few repeated errors that resulted in late goals against the Bobcats, not an overwhelming flaw in the defensive structure.

Still, Michigan needs to shore up areas of its defense before Thursday. With speedy, offensive threats all throughout their lineup, the Pioneers will surely push the Wolverines to the limit, and mistakes could quickly reflect on the scoreboard.

Recognizing when to trade an offensive opportunity for responsible defense is chief among those concerns.

Offensive weapons like freshman defenseman Luke Hughes and senior defenseman Nick Blankenburg will try to generate shots from the back end, but someone has to cover for them when they take those opportunities. Michigan’s forwards have done well rotating back most of the season, but Denver will most likely try to amplify any minor mistakes they make.

Just like every other team in the Frozen Four, a loss ends the Pioneers’ season, and they’re not going to give up against a daunting score. If the Wolverines don’t clamp down on defense, even a four-goal lead is erasable — just like the one that nearly vanished against Quinnipiac.

It’s hard to win the Frozen Four without making the right moves on defense, and that decision making was a big focus of the Wolverines’ preparation. On Tuesday, they honed it with what Pearson said was one of the longest video sessions in his 40 years of coaching.

“It wasn’t the most pleasant video,” Pearson said. “I’m usually real positive with our players. You just can’t sweep it under the rug. You have to address it.”

Facing the toughest challenge of the season, Michigan has to apply those lessons. Another late collapse could cost it a spot in the National Championship Game. 

There’s no room for a do-over, and the Wolverines came narrowly close to learning that lesson against the Bobcats. But a few moments don’t detract from its defensive success through most of the season.

Those hard lessons have to stick, and Michigan is committed to making sure that’s the case.

“We had a lot of video sessions, a lot of on-ice walkthroughs, a lot of work we put in this last week to improve,” fifth-year senior Michael Pastujov said. “I think we got it all figured out.”

Once the final buzzer sounds on Thursday, the Wolverines will know if that’s true.