For the Minnesota Golden Gophers, the NCAA Tournament Starts today in the Big Ten Tournament semifinals. All other games played today being equal, this game can propel Minnesota into the top 10 of the pairwise, or drop them to 15th and in serious danger of missing the NCAA Tournament. Of course, those other games will affect the outcome, but the stakes couldn't be much higher for the Gophers.
For the Ohio State Buckeyes, survivalist hockey started yesterday, where they got off to a good by beating Penn State 3-1. The difference in that game was the Buckeyes' ability to finish scoring chances.
Ohio State is one of only a few teams the country with players that can meet or exceed the open ice skating ability of Minnesota. They used that speed to open up the scoring against Penn State yesterday, and it's their best asset as a team.
The KRACH ratings say that Minnesota should win the game around 70% of the time, just about right in line with their 3-1 record against the Buckeyes this season.
Intra-conference stats give us a decent idea of how these teams have performed against common opponents. Minnesota has an offensive advantage, scoring better than four goals per game. Ohio State scores 2.81. The Buckeyes will try to block shots to even this game up, and they'll hope for a really good game from goaltender Christain Frey, who looked good yesterday.
Minnesota also has the edge on defense, allowing only 2.7 goals per game compared to Ohio State's 3.43. Minnesota will lean on Adam Wilcox to shut down the Buckeyes' dangerous transition offense, which leverages their dangerous foot speed into scoring chances.
A huge key to this game for Ohio State is staying out of the penalty box. They have the worst power play and penalty kill in the Big Ten, and it's really not close. If the game is officiated lightly, like the first game yesterday, the Buckeyes will be the beneficiary. Minnesota's power play units are both deadly. If the game is officiated more like the evening game, Minnesota will likely have the advantage.
This is a huge game for Minnesota. A win today doesn't guarantee an NCAA berth, but it eliminates half of the bad scenarios from possibility.
It's time to get fired up! Go Gophers!