The ability to learn from past mistakes is what makes or breaks a playoff hockey team.

And after drawing Northern Michigan for the second round of the CCHA playoffs this coming weekend, No. 10 Michigan’s ability to repair deficiencies will be under the microscope.

Facing the Wildcats, who advanced to Ann Arbor after knocking out Ohio State in the first round of the CCHA tournament in Columbus, the Wolverines will try to cut down on the defensive-zone turnovers that cost them their first defeat of 2007 – a 2-1 loss at the hands of Northern Michigan – on Jan. 13.

Unfortunately for Michigan, that same carelessness led to its regular-season-ending loss at Ohio State on Feb. 24, more than one month after Northern Michigan’s upset at Yost Ice Arena.

The Wolverines started off their final game strong, holding the Buckeyes to a single goal in the opening period. But as the game wore on, Michigan struggled to get the puck out of its own zone, giving Ohio State too many short-range shots.

After taking 3-1 and 4-2 leads in the second period, the Wolverines allowed Ohio State to climb back into the game. The Buckeyes’ Matt Waddell found open space deep in the Michigan zone for an easy goal. Twenty seconds later, Kenny Bernard tapped the puck in behind Michigan goaltender Billy Sauer after the Wolverines allowed Ohio State’s Andrew Schembri to make a pass across the front of Sauer’s net, tying the game at four.

“We just made too many turnovers,” Michigan senior captain Matt Hunwick said. “We didn’t make them earn their chances. We gave up the puck way too easily. We basically let them take the puck, get to open areas and get shots off.”

The Wolverines’ most egregious mistake — the one that stuck out in Michigan coach Red Berenson’s mind after the game – was a miscue by sophomore Andrew Cogliano that led to the game-winning goal.

The Maize and Blue had an opportunity to clear the puck out of its zone, but Cogliano misplayed the puck. By missing the chance to clear, Cogliano gave Ohio State’s Mathieu Beaudoin the space to slap a shot past Sauer from just inside the blue line.

“That was one mistake,” Berenson said. “That was a forward overskating the puck and just not stopping, not having enough of a sense of urgency.”

On that play, Berenson also gave Beaudoin credit for a perfectly placed shot.

In recent weeks, Sauer has earned Berenson’s praise, making saves on similar shots to make up for defensive lapses while reducing his goals against average from 3.41 on Dec. 30 to 3.03 today. But even with stronger goaltending, Berenson knows his team must cut down on defensive mistakes to have a chance to succeed in the playoffs.

“I don’t like any goalie that gives up six goals,” Berenson said. “It’s a tough game for him to play. I can’t tell you that he had a bad game, but he was a victim, like our whole team was. He was victimized by mistakes.”

After the loss at Ohio State, Michigan’s Spring Break plans centered on learning from the costly errors that have cost it several games in the past two months. The team studies film of its mistakes in order to help eliminate miscues in upcoming games.

Despite the continued struggles with defensive zone turnovers, alternate captain Jason Dest said the first-round bye gave Michigan a chance to learn from the film and work out the kinks in practice.

“We have to analyze this game,” Dest said. “We have to learn a lot from this game, because if we don’t, it’s going to be the same thing.”

According to Hunwick, whether or not the film and subsequent practices pay off might make or break the Wolverines’ season.

“Now it’s do or die for us,” Hunwick said. “If we lose this next series, we’re probably not going to go to the (NCAA) Tournament, so this is huge for us.”

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