The season comes down to this weekend of play. It shouldn’t surprise you that Drew Claussen and I are disagreeing about how it will end — and it won’t surprise you a bit come Sunday if he’s the one who had it right all along. First, our picks so far.
Drew Claussen: 3-3-0 (.500)
Paula Weston: 3-3-0 (.500)
Ah, if only the Buckeyes and Gophers had each won on the nights that I predicted. Sigh.
Drew: 74-64-10 (.534)
Paula: 68-69-11 (.497)
Last week, I added my wins incorrectly, resulting in a slightly lower accuracy percentage. It doesn’t help to know that I’m this close to .500 — nor does it really matter in the slightest, in the greater scheme of things.
Michigan State is in first place with 34 points, one point ahead of the two second-place teams, Michigan and Minnesota. In third place is Penn State, two points behind the Wolverines and Gophers and three behind the Spartans. Ohio State and Wisconsin play to tune up for next week’s Big Ten tournament. This is a great weekend of hockey.
Michigan vs. Michigan State
Drew: This is going to be an exciting series, although that’s not really saying a lot because it’s the last weekend of conference play and two out of the three series are going to be very exciting. To give credit where credit is due, Michigan State’s play has been very impressive during the second half of the season. The Spartans have had effective defensive play and opportunistic scoring. Both teams have been great at home this season, so I really can’t see this series ending in anything other than a split with each team winning its home game. However, with the way I’ve been picking splits for the last month, both will probably find a way to each win a road game.
Paula: This is more than just an exciting series. If Michigan State wins out, the Spartans are the regular-season champs. If Michigan wins out, the Wolverines are the No. 1 seed in the Big Ten tournament; even if both the Wolverines and the Golden Gophers sweep — giving each team 39 points — Michigan would have one more Big Ten win than would Minnesota. Michigan is already 2-1-0 against Michigan State this season, having won the GLI tournament and split the first series, dropping a game in Joe Louis Arena and winning in Soldier Field. For my money, this is the series of the weekend — especially if the Spartans prevail Friday night. Both games are carried by Fox Sports Detroit. Friday’s game begins at 7:00 p.m. and Saturday’s at 5:00. I’m going all in on Jake Hildebrand.
Drew’s picks: Michigan State 2-1, Michigan 4-2.
Paula’s picks: Michigan State 2-1, 2-1.
Penn State at Minnesota
Drew: As I teased in the “Three Things” blog last Sunday, I’m sticking with my preseason pick of Minnesota to win the regular-season title. Penn State is a tough team and the Nittany Lions are coming off of an impressive sweep of Michigan last weekend, but the Gophers are too good on their Olympic-sized ice sheet (12-3-1 at Mariucci this season). With the most far-fetched scenario to finish first, Penn State has the least pressure to sweep this weekend. That could actually lead to some favorable results for the Nittany Lions since the other three teams at the top of the standings may feel like their backs are against the wall, but, like I said in the beginning, I’m picking a Minnesota sweep.
Paula: Once again, I respectfully disagree with my colleague-in-writing. The pressure for Penn State to sweep is every bit as real and pressing as is the pressure for any of the other teams in the Big Ten to sweep. Not only is there a regular-season title at stake, but the Nittany Lions are 27th in the PairWise Rankings and will likely need to win the playoff championship for an NCAA bid. Sweeping Minnesota won’t put them into immediate PWR contention, but two wins against the Gophers — regardless of what else happens ahead of them in the standings — would go a long way toward confidence entering next weekend’s play and in the unlikely scenario that both the Nittany Lions and the Spartans sweep, Penn State gets a first-round bye for next week’s tournament. I’d say that’s pressure enough for any team. These teams split a pair of one-goal games in Pegula Arena three weeks ago, with the Nittany Lions winning in OT the second night. Each of these games begins at 7:00 p.m. Friday’s is carried by American Sports Network and Saturday’s by Fox Sports North Plus.
Drew’s picks: Minnesota 4-3, 3-2.
Paula’s picks: Where Drew and I do agree is in the picking. Minnesota 3-2, 3-2.
Ohio State at Wisconsin
Drew: This series may be an afterthought in terms of conference standings but it’s very important in terms of Ohio State wanting to keep its streak of good play going heading into the postseason. The Buckeyes are 5-3 in their last eight contests and have two impressive splits with Minnesota and Michigan. Their other loss was to the Badgers on Valentine’s Day weekend in Columbus. The Badgers are coming off of a weekend where they were absolutely dominated by Michigan State to the tune of two 3-0 shutout losses. The Kohl Center isn’t an easy building for opponents to get a sweep in, but I’m picking Ohio State to do that this weekend.
Paula: When I talked to Guy Gadowsky for my column this week, he said, “Ohio State is a team that is absolutely better than its record.” Every other coach I reached agreed. The Buckeyes are healthy and dangerous and no one wants to play them in Detroit next weekend. In their split with Wisconsin Feb. 13-14, OSU won 2-1 Friday and lost 3-2 Saturday after leading until midway through the second. If this were any other weekend or if Ohio State were hosting, I’d call a sweep by the Buckeyes. I’m lousy at predicting which team will win which night of a split, but I say the Badgers take their final home game of the season.
Drew’s picks: Ohio State 4-2, 3-1.
Paula’s picks: Ohio State 3-2, Wisconsin 3-2.