The Minnesota Golden Gophers hockey team hosts the Michigan Wolverines this weekend at 3M Arena at Mariucci in the final regular season series for both teams. It’s a critical pair of games for both teams with just about everything on the line. Minnesota can win the Big Ten outright with a little help, they can tie for the Big Ten title, or if things go poorly they could finish as far down in the standings at 5th place and lose out on home ice for the Big Ten Tournament. A pair of wins could propel Minnesota squarely on the right side of the NCAA tournament bubble, but getting swept and possibly even a split most likely ends those dreams this weekend. It is literally all on the line in these next two games for the Gophers.
Minnesota could have put a strangle hold on the Big Ten race last weekend at Penn State, but once again the horror show that is Pegula Arena for Minnesota the past few seasons struck again. The Gophers escaped Pennsylvania with a single point out of a possible six putting them in a place where they do not control their own destiny for a sole Big Ten title and the #1 seed and bye in the conference tournament. They will now need some help from a familiar foe—Wisconsin.
Currently Penn State leads the Big Ten conference with 41 points. Minnesota and Ohio State are tied for second pace with 37 points. Notre Dame is two points behind in 4th place with 35, Michigan two points behind them in 5th with 33, and the Michigan State Spartans sit in 6th place with 31. The Badgers sit alone in last place locked into the #7 seed. But, with six teams in close confines, this weekend could see a lot of movement. Penn State is idle and will just need to watch, but they know the worst they can fall to is third place guaranteeing a home series next weekend, or the first round bye. Ohio State sits next in the drivers seat. They host a pair of games against the last place Badgers this weekend and with a sweep would win the conference and get the #1 seed and the bye. For the Gophers to win the #1 seed they would need to record at least five points against the Wolverines this weekend—AND record at least on more point than the Buckeyes as Ohio State owns the tiebreaker over Minnesota due to Big Ten regular season wins. In fact due to the Gophers propensity of winning the extra conference point this season, they would lose the potential tiebreaker to any of the teams they may find themselves tied with. There is a scenario where four teams tie for the Big Ten title with 41 points, and the Gophers would fall all the way to the #4 seed and host a rematch of this weekend’s games against Michigan next weekend. Lets hope that doesn’t happen,
Basicially, here are your seeding scenarios for Minnesota:
#1 Seed: Earn 5 points or more & OSU gets less than MN
#2 Seed: Earn 5 points or more & OSU earns the same as MN OR record at least 1 more point than OSU and minimum 2 less than Notre Dame
#3 Seed: Earn 4 points & OSU earns 4 or more. MN loses tie breaker with PSU or Earn same point total less than 4 as OSU but 2 or more than Notre Dame
#4 Seed: Earn 4 points and OSU earns 4 and Notre Dame earns 6 OR Less than 4 points equal to or less than Ohio State, and ND gets 5 or more
#5 Seed: 1 point or less and ND gets 5 or more OR 1 point and MSU sweeps ND
Got all that? Yeah us neither.
Then you throw in the pairwise discussion. Minnesota currently sits at #14 in the pairwise before any pucks are dropped this weekend. From www.collegehockeyranked we see that with a sweep the Gophers are still sitting on the bubble, but probably on the right side of the bubble. With a split it gets real precarious real fast, and getting swept? Better get ready to win 4 games in the Big Ten Tournament or pull out the golf clubs.
So that’s how we get where we need to get, but what do the Gophers need to go to get as many points as possible this weekend? Well—beat Michigan. Minnesota did that earleir in the year when they took five out of a possible six points from the Wolverines in Ann Arbor in November. The two teams tied 1-1 on Friday before Jaxon Nelson got the Gophers the extra point with a 3x3 OT winner. The Gophers came back the next night and picked up a 3-1 win over the Wolverines.
Both teams faltered a bit last weekend. Minnesota strugged at Penn State and Michigan came out flat and got swept by Notre Dame on home ice a weekend ago. The Wolverines will be playing desperate as well as anything but a sweep for them eliminates them from NCAA at-large consideration, and probably puts them on the road for the Big Ten Tournament. Michigan had been along with Minnesota one of the hottest teams in the nation in the second half of the season. They were 8-1-1 prior to last weekend since January.
Michigan has had great goaltending during that stretch. Sophomore Strauss Mann leads the Big Ten and is 8th in the nation with a 2.00 goals against average. He ranks 6th in the nation with a .934 save percentage. What hurt the Wolverines last weekend was the inability to put the puck in the net. Notre Dame shut them down and allowed just a single goal in the third period of Friday’s game. If Minnesota can do the same, then it should be a good weekend for the Gophers. But if Michigan can get pucks past Jack LaFontaine then Minnesota may be in trouble.
It seems obvious to say, but the team with the better goaltending will win this weekend. If the good LaFontaine shows up against his former squad, Minnesota is in the drivers seat. If not, Minnesota may need to try and win a 6-5 type game to keep it’s home ice dreams for next weekend alive.
So for the TL;DR rooting interests for this weekend:
- Cheer for Minnesota to win as much as possible
- Cheer for Wisconsin to beat Ohio State as much as possible
- Cheer for Michigan State and Notre Dame to split as many points as possible with a MSU total of 4 or 5 being ideal.
The pressure is squarely on the Gophers shoulders. They have a home crowd and know what they need to do. It’s senior weekend. Now it’s time to execute and take care of business.
HOW TO WATCH:
Michigan Wolverines @ #18 Minnesota Golden Gophers
Where: 3M Arena at Mariucci, Minneapolis, MN
When: 7:30 PM Friday; 5 PM Saturday
TV: BTN (FRI), Fox Sports North (Sat)
Radio 1130 AM/ 103,5 FM/ I Heart Radio