With just two weekends left in the regular season, Michigan is first in the Big Ten. Minnesota currently holds the second spot, but only eight points separate the top four teams. Penn State and Michigan State are the other teams in play for a bye.
Minnesota is No. 11 in the PairWise, and Michigan is 15th. While Michigan is in a more dangerous bubble position, the Gophers still have to win a couple of tough series ahead of them if they want to keep their spot.
Ohio State is ready to move up in the standings, and will face the Gophers this weekend. A struggling Penn State team will face Michigan, and the Spartans and Badgers square off. Remember – each win counts for three points. A shootout win counts for two, and a shootout loss is one.
There were some big injury announcements this week, as Travis Walsh is out for the rest of the season after blocking a shot in the face. He needed to have surgery on his jaw. Penn State’s Jonathan Milley’s playing career is over, and Taylor Holstrom is definitely out for this weekend, and most likely for the season.
Ohio State (11-17-2, 6-10-0 B1G) vs. Minnesota (18-11-3, 9-4-3 B1G): March 6 at 5 p.m.; March 7 at 6 p.m.
The Gophers split their series with Michigan State. They overcame a 2-0 deficit on Friday after a shaky Nick Lehr adjusted in net. Adam Wilcox let in some questionable goals on Saturday night, ending the series in a split.
These next series are key for the Gophers as they fight for a bye and their spot in the PairWise. Overall I think Minnesota has played better lately, starting with a sweep over Michigan in the middle of February.
But the Buckeyes, finally healthy, are playing better too. Ohio State has won four of their last six, including a sweep over Penn State. The Buckeyes defeated Michigan not too long ago (and more importantly, didn’t surrender 10 goals).
Only two Ohio State players have appeared in every game this season – Tanner Fritz and Anthony Grecco. Matt Johnson and Nick Oddo are healthy, and Darik Angeli has played in the last eight games. While the rest of the team has been getting healthy, Christian Frey has helped Ohio State to its last four wins.
I really like the Buckeyes and where they’re going. A bye might be out of reach, but the Buckeyes can still knock down a few teams as the season winds down.
Prediction: Series split
Penn State (16-12-4, 8-7-1 B1G) vs. Michigan (19-11-0, 11-5-0 B1G): March 6 at 7 p.m.; March 7 at 3 p.m.
Penn State is eight points behind Michigan, and the Nittany Lions could limit that gap if they can sweep the Wolverines. But Michigan is on the bubble in the PairWise, and this series could impact where the Wolverines fall.
Michigan is on a three-game winning streak, just after a three-game losing skid. The Wolverines defeated the Badgers and Ohio State over that stretch, but have been playing better as a whole since the sweep to Minnesota. Steve Racine has started the last five games for Michigan, and posted his first career shutout on Friday.
Michigan’s offense still leads the nation, and Penn State takes the most shots in the country, averaging 50.53 shots on goal per game. The Nittany Lions have won one of their last six games, an overtime win against Minnesota. Holstrom’s loss is a big one for the Nittany Lions, as Holstom has 33 points and averages 1.14 points per game this season.
It’s been a difficult second half of the season for Penn State, and to me they don’t seem like the complete team from the first half of the season.
Prediction: Michigan sweeps
Michigan State (14-14-2, 8-6-2 B1G) vs. Wisconsin (4-22-4, 2-12-2 B1G): March 6 at 7 p.m.; March 7 at 7 p.m.
The Spartans suffered a setback after letting a 3-0 lead slip away against Minnesota. But Michigan State has been wishy washy over the past few series, and will now be without Travis Walsh – who’s one of the team’s most experienced defensemen. Defender Carson Gatt is out indefinitely for violating team rules.
Wisconsin is on a two-game losing streak, and was swept by Michigan. The Badgers were dominated in that second game, and Michigan controlled possession against the Badgers. For the most part, Wisconsin has played better in the second half of the season.
These teams met two weeks ago, and that ended in a series split. Wisconsin won 2-1 because of Joel Rumpel. If the Badgers have a chance of winning, Rumpel needs to play his best. But, the Spartans are very thin at defense right now.
Prediction: Series split