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March 21, 2013

Wolverines face first one-and-done playoff scenario

When the Michigan hockey team meets Miami in a CCHA semifinal Saturday (4:35 p.m., Fox Sports Detroit), it faces its first one-and-done scenario, and for the Wolverines, a loss would mean the end of their season and the NCAA Tournament streak.

In these playoffs, U-M hasn't faced the one-game elimination yet. The first two rounds of the postseason have been best-of-three series, and not that the Maize and Blue needed three games - they swept both Northern Michigan and Western Michigan - but they played decidedly better in the second game of each series, winning 6-2 and 5-1 over their two foes. In the first games, they hung on for 3-2 and 4-3 victories over the Wildcats and Broncos, respectively.

"We've had the cushion of knowing if Friday didn't work out we'd have Saturday and potentially Sunday, but we're just taking it game by game," senior alternate captain Kevin Lynch said. "We can't get ahead of ourselves because if we don't win on Saturday we don't even have a chance to play on Sunday and make the NCAA Tournament.

"Our focus is on Miami. They're the No. 1 team in our league. They have been all year. They have so many weapons offensively. They probably have the lowest goals against in our league so we have a lot to prepare for."

Junior defenseman Mac Bennett promises Michigan will be ready to play its best on Saturday.

"We don't have that luxury of thinking if we lose this game then we can get them back tomorrow," he said. "We know what's on the line and know we have to bring it in our first game. And we haven't played bad in the first game of our series, but you'll definitely see a really energized and a really strong Michigan team come Saturday."

Michigan and Miami split its only series earlier this season, with U-M winning the first game, but that October matchup was eons ago, with the Wolverines improving to 3-1-0 after their win and falling to 3-2-0 after their defeat. Since then, so much has happened, and for most of the year the NCAA Tournament seemed out of reach. Now, it's very much within the Maize and Blue's grasp, though they're not getting caught looking ahead.

"I'm not even thinking about it and I don't think the guys on the team are because we've come so far and we don't want to get ourselves over-excited," Bennett said.

"We need to win Saturday and it all starts with that. And then we can't go unless we win Sunday so we have to make sure we put all our eggs in the basket for Saturday."

Whatever happens, this Michigan team, once ridiculed for its shortcomings, has inspired its alumni base and its fans, and they're proud of the way they've played the past four weeks.

"There was talk of us having the worst season in Michigan hockey history or at least the past 30 years, and that's not something we wanted on our shoulders," Lynch said. "I think the last month we've done a great job playing together and playing for that 'M' on our jersey."

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