ANN ARBOR, Mich. — In recent seasons, a win streak of a mere three games would have been so routine, so small for Michigan that it hardly would have merited mention.
This season, though, is different.
Languishing near the bottom of the standings for the second half of 2012-13, the Wolverines have struggled to put together consistent efforts from game to game. Much of that inconsistency has been on the defensive end – Michigan hasn’t held opponents to fewer than two goals since mid-December.
That is one reason why tonight’s 4-1 win over Ferris State is such big news for the Wolverines. After last weekend’s sweep of Ohio State, Michigan has now won three games in a row for the second time this season.
More importantly, the Wolverines have now taken three CCHA games in a row and those nine league points have given Michigan a chance to secure home ice in the first round of the CCHA playoffs.
Of course, where Michigan plays next weekend will be determined by the outcome of Saturday’s rematch with Ferris State.
“We know that tonight’s game really doesn’t mean anything without tomorrow night’s game,” said Michigan coach Red Berenson. “And tomorrow night’s game is huge. It means a lot. It means a lot to everybody in the league. All of these games are games that are going to influence their own situation and everyone else. I think we have a little bit of control of our destiny and [we need] to take advantage of it.”
The Wolverines began to control their destiny early in this contest when forward Zach Hyman was in the right place at the right time to bat in a fluky mid-air goal past FSU goaltender C.J. Motte at 2:40 in the first.
“That first one was a little unfortuitous for us,” said Ferris State coach Bob Daniels. “It went up in the air and over the goalie, but you should be able to shake that off. We’re just a little off chemistry-wise.”
Chemistry and defense were the keys to this contest, at least for the Wolverines. Michigan outshot Ferris State 37-23, with an overall defensive effort that made it difficult for the Bulldogs to penetrate for decent shots on freshman goaltender Steve Racine.
“It’s a combination of everything,” said Berenson. “I think the defense played strong and our goalie played strong and a couple of our forwards came back and saved sure goals, so it’s a good team effort defensively.”
“I think they were super-solid defensively,” said Daniels. “Really quality game from start to finish.”
By the end of the first period, the Wolverines led 2-1. Derek DeBlois picked up a rebounded shot initiated by Andrew Copp at 9:35 to make it 2-0 and Travis Ouellette had a power-play goal for the Bulldogs at 16:03 to bring the score to 2-1.
Even on the FSU goal, though, the Bulldogs had additional help from the Wolverines. Lee Moffie cross-checked Kyle Bonis into the Michigan crease and Racine had Bonis pinned when Ouellete score the goal.
In the final two periods, Michigan made the win look easy.
Luke Moffatt scored on the rebound at 14:09 in the second and at 12:13 in the third, Moffie sent a long shot toward the FSU net from above the left point, a shot that hit a Bulldog skate and bounced into the net.
Even though Ouellette scored the goal, Daniels had harsh words for his line, which includes Bonis and Garrett Thompson.
“When our best players don’t show up and play well – I mean, for instance, we need to get more out of Ouellette’s line as a whole, Bonis and Thompson,” Daniels said. “When they’re minus-three, when they’re out there for three goals against … then you’re not going to win.”
Daniels added that he was “disappointed” that the Bulldogs “didn’t have a better performance.”
“I don’t think we played well – I know we didn’t,” said Daniels. We played poorly. I don’t think the score even reflected how poorly we played. It could have been worse.”
Heading into Saturday’s game, Michigan (13-18-2, 10-15-2-2 CCHA) is tied in seventh place with Bowling Green. Each team has 34 points. While the top five teams in the league have first-round byes, the teams that finish sixth through eighth host a first-round playoff series. Having to play their way into home ice is a position with which the Wolverines are unfamiliar.
“We’ll see when the smoke clears after the weekend,” said Berenson, “but we took a good step tonight.”
Tomorrow’s game could determine home ice for Ferris State (15-14-4, 13-12-2-1 CCHA) in the second round of the CCHA playoffs. The Bulldogs know they’ll face Ohio State, a team with which they were tied for fourth coming into tonight’s game, after a first-round bye. What remains to be determined is who will host. Ohio State beat league-leading Miami on the road tonight, 3-0.