With a month to go, everything just got much more interesting in the Big Ten.
1. Six points makes a big difference.
The Golden Gophers and Spartans each swept their conference series at home this past weekend, and those sweeps did as much to help define the losing teams as to define the conference standings. In each case, the winners defeated a team above them in the standings, teams that have been tearing up the league in the second half and teams that have been able to make up for defensive deficiencies with high offensive outputs. Minnesota kept Michigan — the top offense in the country — to two goals on the weekend, delivering the first shutout loss of the season for the Wolverines Saturday night. Michigan State did the same thing against Penn State, keeping the Nittany Lions to two goals in the series with a shutout Friday night, the first such loss of the season for PSU. We all knew that inconsistency in net would be something that could bite the Wolverines and Nittany Lions — any team in this league, really — in NCAA play, but it’s something to contend with now as well, especially since Minnesota’s Adam Wilcox is looking more confident and Michigan State’s Jake Hildebrand remains as steady as ever.
2. Four teams are eyeing the regular-season championship.
This is fun. With their sweep of the Wolverines, the Gophers played themselves into a two-way tie for first place, each team with 24 points. With their sweep of the Nittany Lions, the Spartans tied themselves with Penn State for second place, each team with 22 points. All four teams have played the same number of conference games. Michigan has series remaining against Penn State and Michigan State; Minnesota has two series remaining against PSU and a series versus Michigan State. While no one has an easy schedule remaining, Michigan State does play Wisconsin twice while Penn State plays Minnesota twice and Michigan once. The next month will be very interesting, indeed.
3. Finally, a win.
Wisconsin registered its first Big Ten win of the season Saturday, coming from behind twice to beat Ohio State, 3-2. Adam Rockwood had the game-winning goal for the Badgers at 15:41 in the third, and Joel Rumpel made 28 saves in the win. The Badgers have been this close a number of times in the second half, and the weekend split with the Buckeyes puts Wisconsin two points behind Ohio State. They’re still in last place, but only just — and both UW and OSU may play spoiler yet to those four teams ahead of them vying for fist place.