What a wild weekend in the Big Ten. While other conferences were engaging in playoff hockey, B1G teams were playing their second-to-last weekend of regular-season play and showing us that nothing is predictable for this league this season.
Congratulations to Ohio State for completing its first sweep of Michigan since 2011, and congrats to Wisconsin for its second Big Ten win of the season.
The three things I take away from this weekend have everything to do with the number 3.
1. Three points never seemed so elusive.
Had the Golden Gophers won Saturday, they’d have captured their third regular-season Big Ten title by the time sun set Sunday by way of Michigan’s loss to Ohio State. The Spartans, however, had another narrative in mind. Before Saturday’s match between Minnesota and Michigan State was a minute old, the Spartans led 1-0 and then never looked back. It was Mason Appleton scoring on the first shot of the game at :46 to give State that lead, and the Gophers never really had much of a sniff in the contest because Michigan State senior goaltender Jake Hildebrand didn’t give them one as he stopped all 28 shots for his third shut out of the season.
Now the Gophers still need three points to guarantee that third consecutive regular-season B1G championships. And given their loss to a team not under PairWise consideration, the Gophers have dropped to a two-way tie with Penn State for the 17th spot in the PWR, so Minnesota will likely need to win the Big Ten tournament to return to the NCAA tournament.
2. Three points never seemed so elusive, Part 2.
After beating Wisconsin 2-1 Friday night, the Nittany Lions pulled to within three points of second-place Michigan. Penn State had an opportunity Saturday to tie Michigan for points in the standings and have an upper hand with the tiebreaker; had the Nittany Lions beat the Badgers Saturday night, PSU would have had one more win than Michigan — given the Wolverines’ 6-5 loss to Ohio State Sunday — heading into next weekend’s series between the two teams in Yost Ice Arena.
But the Nittany Lions didn’t win. Instead, after scoring early in the first period to take a 1-0 lead, PSU allowed four unanswered Wisconsin goals, two to end the first and two in the second. Freshman goaltender Matt Jurusik put in an heroic 46-save performance for the Badgers to help guarantee that win in Wisconsin’s last home game of the season.
Freshman Chris Funkey saw his third game action of the season for Penn State, playing the final 33:22 of the contest.
Now the Nittany Lions need to sweep Michigan in Yost next weekend to capture second place in the final B1G standings and a first-round bye in the championship tournament, and — like Minnesota — Penn State will likely need to win the Big Ten tournament outright to get to the NCAA tournament.
3. 3×4=12, enough to beat Michigan twice.
The Buckeyes scored six unanswered goals in Friday’s 7-4 road win over the Wolverines — three to end the first period, three to begin the second — and then scored three unanswered goals in the second half of the first period in Sunday’s 6-5 overtime win on their way to sweeping Michigan. It was a nice turn of events for Ohio State, a team that scored six goals against Michigan in Yost Arena earlier in the season and lost. It’s also an interesting reversal of fortune for the Wolverines, who netted 10 goals two games and lost both.
Sunday’s game marked Michigan’s third consecutive loss, the first time that’s happened to the Wolverines this season. And what a lost opportunity to pull within a point of the Golden Gophers in the standings, knowing that Minnesota had dropped that game to Michigan State the night before.
Other interesting numbers following the Friday-Sunday series:
• OSU and UM combined for eight power-play goals, three scored by Ohio State.
•Seven different Buckeyes scored in the 7-4 win and five different Buckeyes scored in regulation in the 6-5 win. Nick Schilkey is the only OSU player to net two goals, both in Sunday’s game including the winning goal at 2:54 in OT.
•The Buckeyes have scored 30 goals in their last five games, going 4-0-1 in that span.
•Michigan drops to a two-way tie for eighth with Boston University (from sixth) in the PWR following the losses.
With a single win next weekend against Penn State — three points — the Wolverines guarantee a conference finish no lower than second place and a first-round bye in the Big Ten championship tournament.