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Last time the Michigan hockey team played Notre Dame, the season had just begun. Up to that point, the Wolverines had only lost two of their 13 games. The Fighting Irish arrived in Ann Arbor in November and swept Michigan in two overtime matchups.

This time around, the Wolverines are under immense pressure to win their last regular season series and come out of South Bend victorious. Michigan is currently two points above Minnesota in the Big Ten. Wisconsin also has the opportunity to assist the Wolverines by upsetting the Golden Gophers, taking pressure off of Michigan. 

Come Saturday night, the Wolverines could find themselves in a variety of different scenarios. If Michigan gets four points against the Fighting Irish this weekend, it should clinch the regular season title, earn the top seed for the Big Ten Tournament and secure a bye week for the first round.

If they don’t, the Wolverines will settle for a second-place finish and play the last place seed next weekend. 

Notre Dame is the only team Michigan has played this year and not beaten, meaning it has room to grow.

The Fighting Irish are a disciplined team: they boast a 91.5 penalty kill percentage on the season. In the second game of the series against the Wolverines in November, Notre Dame killed all six of its penalties.

“If we have a power play or two they’re not going to take many penalties and we have to take advantage of them,” Michigan coach Mel Pearson said. “They’re built from the net out, sound defensively and not going to give you much. They’re not going to beat themselves.”

Michigan has been red-hot in the second half of the season, winning 11 of its last 12 regular season games. The Wolverines’ only loss during that stretch came at Minnesota in January. 

Michigan’s fast play — best seen through sophomore defenseman Luke Hughes’s goal Saturday night against Ohio State — must continue against the Fighting Irish for the Wolverines to have a chance at victory. Notre Dame’s defensive structure is its greatest asset, and Michigan must utilize its quick edging. 

Additionally, staying in front on the scoreboard will be vital if Michigan wants to turn its fortunes around against the Fighting Irish.

“One of the key things is to play with the lead,” Pearson said. “When they get behind, they stay in that defensive mode and take advantage of your mistakes. We found that earlier in the year. We did get ahead of them but we couldn’t hold it.”

Against the Buckeyes last weekend, the Wolverines did all the right things, racing for loose pucks and applying back pressure. The few opportunities that Michigan did give Ohio State were turnovers in dangerous areas, giving the Buckeyes odd-man rushes. 

The Wolverines’ speed will aid them in holding onto the lead against Notre Dame. When they lose the puck, they’re able to skate back fast and retrieve it. Avoiding unnecessary penalties could also assist them — something Michigan struggled with in the first series. Staying disciplined is pivotal to play strong period to period. 

But with the Olympians returning, lines will change and certain players won’t dress. The Wolverines will need to strike a balance between sticking with what’s been working and reintroducing the stars. 

“We will make the right decisions that will give us the best chance to win with the right guys on Friday,” Pearson said. “We feel like we could put anybody right now in the right group and we would still have a chance to win.”

Friday night, Michigan will put that to the test.