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Michigan series pivotal for Badgers hockey NCAA tourney hopes

Wisconsin’s recent momentum hints at NCAA tournament potential, but this weekend’s series with Michigan may be make or break.

It is that time of the year for college hockey — it’s time to start thinking about the NCAA tournament. For the Wisconsin Badgers, the momentum gained over the past two weekends means they sit firmly on the edge of an NCAA tournament berth.

Standing in UW’s way this weekend is one of the teams ahead of them in the important PairWise rankings — the Michigan Wolverines. Wisconsin comes in to this series at No. 19 in the PairWise rankings, while Michigan comes in at No. 16.

After becoming the first Big Ten team to beat Notre Dame two weekends ago, Wisconsin followed that up with a win and an overtime draw against Penn State at the Kohl Center this past weekend. The points gained moved the Badgers off the near bottom of the Big Ten and up to third place in the league.

Momentum seems to be on the side of UW as of late, as both of Wisconsin’s point-getting results last weekend were comebacks.

“It’s been a frustrating first half,” said Granato at his weekly press conference on Monday. “We talked about this quite a bit in the past few weeks, because we’re a better team than our record’s indicated. We played some great games over the first half of the year, but we weren’t able to put a lot of victories in to some of the games were we played well.

“So I think that now that the results are starting to come, the confidence in each other is starting to come.”

However, the opponent this weekend is as equally hungry as the Badgers. Michigan is looking to rebound at home after being swept by Ohio State last weekend in 4-0 and 5-3 fashion.

The Wolverines sit on the edge of the NCAA tournament field and that’s not a good spot to be in heading in to February.

As for the Badgers, it’s not only the points gained, but the how that points to pure momentum heading down the stretch of the season.

Wisconsin has found a hot hand, or should I say glove, at goaltender after some struggles at the position over the previous month or so. While senior Kyle Hayton came in as a much-hyped graduate transfer from St. Lawrence, lately it has been Jack Berry that has spear-headed this latest turnaround.

He’s been in net for the last three games, and Wisconsin has been able to take points in all three games. Berry has been a steadying force between the pipes in those three games, having a 1.95 goals against average and 94.7 save percentage. He was brilliant in Wisconsin’s 5-0 shutout of previously B1G-unbeaten Notre Dame, stopping all 41 shots faced in that game alone.

UW’s offense has always played well, but freshman are continuing to step up instead of shrinking against higher competition. To date, Wisconsin’s newcomers have accounted for 82 points on the season. That includes

This series in Ann Arbor is also critical because the Badgers face two of their biggest foes of the season following the Michigan series. UW will host Minnesota next weekend and then travel to Columbus to take on a top 10 ranked Ohio State Buckeyes team.

Getting a positive result this weekend sets the Badgers up for a great chance to make a run to the NCAA tournament. Failing to earn points this weekend pretty much would put the nail in UW’s NCAA tournament hopes though.

Andy Coppens is the Founder and Publisher of Talking10. He's a member of the Football Writers Association of America (FWAA) and has been covering college sports in some capacity since 2008. You can follow him on Twitter @AndyOnFootball

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