The Minnesota Golden Gophers hockey team will look to extend a five game winning streak when they host the Michigan State Spartans at home this weekend. It’s a key series for both teams as they currently are tied for third place in the Big Ten standings with Notre Dame Fighting Irish with 28 points. All three teams trail first place Ohio State Buckeyes and Penn State Nittany Lions by just one conference point was we enter the last four weekends of the season.
Minnesota enters the series on a hot streak having won five consecutive games. That includes home sweeps of the then #6 team in the nation in Ohio State and last weekend at rival Wisconsin Badgers. Minnesota’s last loss came in the Friday night game to the team they face this weekend—Michigan State in East Lansing.
The Gophers have had success scoring of late and will look to keep that going. A week after Brannon McManus and Sampo Ranta were named the top two stars of the week in the Big Ten, the Gophers swept the weekly awards this week. Sammy Walker was named the first stat scoring three points including both game winning goals against the Badgers. Bryce Brodzinski led the Big Ten and tied for second in the nation with three goals over the weekend. He scored two in Friday night’s win and added a third on Saturday. McMannus made it two weeks in a row of honors as he was named the third star of the week after scoring two goals on two shots Friday and adding an assist on Saturday.
Minnesota will most likely rotate their goaltenders again this weekend, but got some big play from freshman Jared Moe last weekend. Moe entered the game in the second period Friday night after Jack LaFontaine was yanked and did not give up a goal the rest of the night on Friday before allowing just a pair on Saturday to get a pair of wins. I won’t be shocked to see Bob Motzko go back to LaFontaine Friday night against the Spartans, but I fully expect Moe will play on Saturday.
The Spartans come in rested after a weekend off. Two weekends ago they split a series with Penn State in East Lansing. The major reason for the Spartans success this season has been the play of senior goalie John Lethemon. He has been amazing for MSU and leads the NCAA in save percentage at .943, while his 1.88 GAA ranks seventh and also leads the Big Ten. Additionally, Lethemon’s five shutouts also lead the league and are tied for second most in the country. Lethemon only gave up three goals to the Gophers in their series in East Lansing in January but only got a split as Moe shut down MSU to earn a 2-0 shutout win on Saturday.
The Spartan offence is not as powerful as it has been, but they can definitely still score goals. Patrick Khodorenko is tied for third in the Big Ten in points with 28 and is second in goals with 14. He leads the Big Ten in conference games with 11 goals, while he’s tied for second in points in league contests with 17. He has killed Minnesota over the last four seasons including a pair of goals in the Friday night win over Minnesota.
The Spartans wil lwant to try and make the game a defensive battle, and Minnesota will want to try and open it up, especially on the home big ice sheet. Which ever team has more success doing that will most likely end up in the right side of the weekend’s results.
And this weekend will be key going forward. Minnesota and Michigan state both have two games in hand on the three other teams within a point of the top spot in the Big Ten standings, so making up as much ground as possible will be huge. Minnesota has two huge road tests the next two weekends at Notre Dame and Penn State so taking care of business will be key if the Gophers want to try and lock down a home ice spot and have any chance at an NCAA Tournament at large bid.
The Gophers come into the weekend ranked #18 in the pairwise, but still have plenty of work to do. According to College Hockey Ranked’s Jim Dahl Minnesota needs to go at minimum 6-2 in their final eight regular season games to have a chance of being on the right side of the bubble. That’s not including what may happen in Big Ten Tournament play.
With two tough road series left, the margin for error is small, so the Gophers must play the rest of the season like the playoffs are already here.
HOW TO WATCH
#19 Michigan State Spartans @ Minnesota Golden Gophers
Where: 3M Arena at Mariucci, Minneapolis,MN
When: 7PM Friday; 5PM Saturday
TV: Fox Sports North Plus
Stream: Fox Sports Go
Radio: 1130AM/103.5FM/ I Heart Radio