#2 Wisconsin vs. #6 Penn State
(Wins 87.2% of games)
Penn State picked up it’s first-ever B1G Ten Hockey Tournament win by edging Michigan 2-1 in the second overtime period on Thursday. Their next challenge comes today at 2 PM against an even tougher opponent, the Wisconsin Badgers.
Compared to Michigan, Wisconsin is better on both sides of the ice. Perhaps most important to Penn State, Wisconsin is a much better scoring team. The Badgers have average more than three goals per conference game, so the Nittany Lions will likely need to score more than one goal in regulation to come on top today.
Wisconsin features three first team All-Big Ten skaters, Michael Mersch, Marc Zengerle, and defenseman Jake McCabe. Nick Kerdiles and Frankie Simonelli were voted onto the second team, so the Badgers have some star power that Penn State did not see in the first game of the tournament.
Penn State won yesterday because Matthew Skoff stood on his head and made 53 saves. Skoff was the biggest factor in that game.
The Nittany Lions peppered the Michigan goal with 44 shots in regulation time, and an additional 21 in overtime. With the two goals they scored, their shooting percentage on the night was a grim looking 3%. If they’re going to compete in this game, they’ll have to score more efficiently. That won’t be an easy feat against goaltender Joel Rumpel, who allows only two goals per game and saves over 93% of the shots he faces.
Honestly, Wisconsin has the edge in every category. Depending on how the weekend shakes out, they’ll either be a #1 seed in an Regional or a #2, and they played well down the stretch. The Badgers just need to play their own game to beat Penn State, because they’re better than Penn State. If Wisconsin plays loose and with good pace, they’ll win this game easily. They have an added advantage because Penn State played 93 minutes yesterday.
For Penn State to come out on top, they’re going to have to stick to the formula: great goaltending and tons of shots on goal of whatever quality they can manage. Skoff will have to have another fabulous game against the talented Badger forwards, and it’s not going to be easy.
The winner of this game moves on to the Tournament Championship to face the winner of Minnesota and Ohio State at 7 PM on Saturday.
B1G Ten Hockey Tournament Must Reads
#1 Minnesota vs. #4 Ohio State
(Wins 80.8% of Games
The Golden Gophers will finally hit the ice in this tournament at 7 PM against Ohio State. The best team in the tournament will cut its playoff teeth against a Buckeye squad that edged past Michigan State in overtime last night. Minnesota leads the season series 3-0-1, with the shootout loss coming two weeks ago in Columbus.
In their first tournament game, the highly touted Ohio State offense struggled to score against the Spartans disciplined defensive posture. Tonight, they’ll put their scoring talent to the test against the conference’s best defense; Minnesota allows just 1.85 goals against per conference game.
That defense is backstopped by Big Ten Player and Goaltender of the year, as well as Mike Richter Award and Hobey baker finalist, Adam Wilcox. To get to Wilcox, the Buckeyes will have to bypass a talented corps of defenders, including Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year Mike Reilly and shut down defensemen Brady Skjei and Justin Holl.
The Buckeye defenders will have their hands full against the most potent offense in the tournament. The Golden Gophers average 3.4 goals per conference game, 1.3 goals per game more than the MSU squad the Buckeye’s held to a single goal in the quarterfinal.
Minnesota fans are familiar with the Gophers’ scoring talent, led by Sam Warning, Hudson Fasching, Seth Ambroz, and Kyle Rau. While top end scorers are the greatest threat, Minnesota’s scoring depth sets it apart from the other teams in the tournament. The Gophers top three lines all have the ability score. Don Lucia’s team will benefit from their last change advantage, allowing The Don to set his preferred matchups after most stoppages.
In short, OSU has a tough challenge ahead.
In the four regular season games these two teams played, Minnesota proved that it’s capable of scoring on the Buckeyes; the Gophers have 12 goals in the four games played, including the outdoor Hockey City Classic (where the elements nearly eliminated offense entirely). The Buckeyes have not proven that they can score against Minnesota: they scored only five goals in the four games.
As is custom in playoff hockey, this game will be decided by defense and goaltending. If OSU can limit Minnesota to two goals, they stand a good chance of pulling out a victory.
Through stretches of the previous meetings, the Buckeyes had no answer for the Minnesota forecheck. If Minnesota can establish that forecheck and control the offensive zone, they’ll be playing tomorrow night for the tournament championship.
The winner of this game will play the winner of Wisconsin and Penn State on Saturday at 7 PM.