Fans are expecting offensive fireworks this weekend at Mariucci Arena. Michigan enters the Big Ten series as the only team in college hockey averaging more than four goals a game, and the Gophers' scoring problems appear to be resolved with an average of 3.54 goals per night.
However, the Gophers coaching staff is hoping for a much different experience.
"More than anything, you have to prevent goals," Gophers coach Don Lucia said. "We're not going to outscore Michigan, we have to outdefend them."
So how do the Gophers plan to slow down a team averaging 4.21 goals per night with four high-end forwards, two with 30-plus points?
"We just have to make sure we have a third guy high. You can't give up odd-man rushes," Lucia added. "We have to limit their power-play opportunities 'cause they have two very good power play units, as well. And more than anything, we've got to manage the puck. We can't shorten the rink up against Michigan 'cause they've got too much skill and speed."
Puck management was a problem for the Gophers when they were swept at Yost Arena in early January. They gave up a lead in the third period and then lost in overtime in the series opener. Things got worse in Game 2 when goaltender Adam Wilcox was pulled after giving up five goals in 25 minutes.
The Gophers have scored 21 goals over their last four games, arguing that there's a chance they could keep up with Michigan's offense, but Lucia and his staff are confident their chances of winning are much higher with the focus on defense.
"They held serve at home and now we get an opportunity to do the same this weekend," Lucia said. "I think the guys will understanding the importance of the weekend. I think the building will be alive. I think our fans appreciate the way Michigan plays, with tremendous speed, pace and skill, and I think this will be one of those weekends they look forward to coming to watch."
• Kyle Rau was among the finalists announced for the 2015 Senior CLASS Award on Friday. The Gophers senior is one of 10 chosen from the original list of 30 candidates and the winner will be announced during the Frozen Four in April. The award is given to the senior who most excels on and off the ice by showing notable achievements in community, classroom, character and competition.
• Gophers senior forward Travis Boyd has emerged as someone that can lead the Gophers out of the deep hole they put themselves in over the past three months. He scored four goals in last weekend's sweep and will need to keep up his offensive surge this weekend against high-scoring Michigan. Read about Boyd's maturity process, and watch video of Boyd, Gophers coach Don Lucia and senior forward Sam Warning previewing the weekend series.
• Series Preview: Gophers vs. No. 12 Michigan
8:12 p.m. Friday at Mariucci Arena
TV/radio/live stream: BTN; 1500-AM; BTN2Go.
Gophers at a glance: The outlook for the Gophers (14-9-3, 5-2-3 Big Ten) hasn’t been this positive in three months. They’re riding a four-game unbeaten streak and more importantly showing signs of continuity on the ice. They’ve scored 21 goals in the past four games and improved defensively last weekend, giving up only two goals each night against Ohio State. Several individuals stepped up to fill the void of injured forward Connor Reilly, including freshman Leon Bristedt and sophomore Taylor Cammarata, both of which had struggled badly over the first four months of the season. Senior forward Travis Boyd also emerged as someone that could lead this team down the stretch and junior goaltender Adam Wilcox looked more like the reigning Big Ten MVP. This weekend’s result against a highly skilled opponent, however, will be a better test of the Gophers’ progress.
For more on Michigan and their college hockey-best offense, read the full series preview.
• Gophers' Friday lines
Forwards (left wing, center, right wing)
Leon Bristedt, Kyle Rau, Hudson Fasching
Sam Warning, Travis Boyd, Seth Ambroz
Taylor Cammarata, Justin Kloos, Vinni Lettieri
Ryan Reilly, Christian Isackson, A.J. Michaelson
Defensemen (left, right)
Brady Skjei, Ryan Collins
Mike Reilly, Jake Bischoff
Ben Marshall, Michael Brodzinski
Adam Wilcox, Nick Lehr, Ryan Coyne