Three Things: Gophers, Michigan State and a close race

It was a weekend that produced a sweep for Minnesota, a sort of sweep for Michigan State and a split for the Badgers and Buckeyes. Here are three things that I saw from this weekend’s action in the Big Ten.

1. The Gophers 

I was really intrigued to see how Minnesota would respond after getting swept last weekend by the Badgers in Madison. To state the obvious, they responded well. Minnesota downed Michigan 5-3 on Friday night and 4-1 on Saturday night for its fourth conference sweep of the season.

Gophers head coach Don Lucia said he was impressed with how his team handled Michigan’s fast start in both games.

“I thought the important goal tonight was our first one,” Lucia said after Saturday’s game. “Michigan came out and the first one goes in. We kind of righted the ship.”

What I was most impressed with concerning the Gophers this weekend was this weekend was that they scored goals and didn’t rely on Adam Wilcox being Iron Man (forced mask reference, sorry) to win games. Friday was the first time Minnesota put five goals on the board since early January against RPI.

2. The Spartans

Michigan State isn’t going to win the Big Ten regular season title, I get that, but anytime you’re playing a conference cellar dweller like Penn State you need to come out of that series with the vast majority of points up for grabs. The Spartans did just that this weekend, tying a energetic Nittany Lions squad, that was coming off of their first Big Ten win, 2-2 on Friday night and picking up a 2-1 on Saturday. The Spartans won the shootout on Friday.

“We’ve been in games like today’s a few times where we thought we deserved a better fate,” Spartans’ head coach Tom Anastos said after Saturday’s contest. “We had a hard time matching their level of play and we were able to hang around and make the right plays at the right time to figure out a way to win the game.”

Though they are done with conference-leader Minnesota, the last couple weekends for the Spartans are going to be tough. Michigan State will play Wisconsin four times and Michigan twice in its final six conference games.

3. The standings

Here’s how the Big Ten Standings looks after this weekend.

1. Minnesota — 32 points
2. Wisconsin — 25 points
3. Michigan — 20 points
4. Ohio State — 20 points
5. Michigan State — 19 points
6. Penn State — 4 points

Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan State and Ohio State have six conference games remaining. Michigan and Penn State have eight. The first and second finishers will receive a bye in March’s Big Ten Tournament. That means that, even though it looks like Minnesota will finish first, the race for second will definitely be something to keep an eye on.