To say that the results from B1G hockey this weekend were surprising would be a bit of an understatement — unless you’re Michigan State, Ohio State and Michigan.
1. Two B1G splits.
The Spartans went to Madison and came away with three points after beating Wisconsin 2-0 Friday night before losing 5-2 Saturday. After a shaky start to the second half of the season — after such a promising first half — Michigan State sophomore John Lethemon made 30 saves in his fourth shutout of the season, the fifth of his career. The Friday win gives the Spartans their third conference victory of the season, but Michigan State is still in last place.
That loss, though, cost Wisconsin a chance to move up in the standings, given the other activity of the weekend. Now with the split, the Badgers are in fifth place with 17 points, a point behind Michigan.
The Buckeyes went to State College and came away with three points after first losing to Penn State 5-2 Friday before beating the Nittany Lions 5-1 the following night. Each team ended the other’s streak; Ohio State saw its six-game win streak snap on Friday, and the Nittany Lions saw their 11-game unbeaten streak stopped Saturday. Ohio State freshman goaltender Tommy Nappier made 30 saves when he won his first Big Ten start. He also stopped a penalty shot in the contest. Uncharacteristically, the Buckeyes outshot the Nittany Lions 42-31 in the contest.
More importantly, the split kept each team where it was in the standings at the start of the weekend. The Buckeyes were ahead of Penn State by two points entering the weekend, with Ohio State in second and Penn State in third. That hasn’t changed, and now the Nittany Lions are still chasing the Buckeyes and the teams are done playing each other for the season.
Of course, everyone’s chasing Notre Dame, but that’s another story.
2. A B1G sweep.
The Wolverines went to Minneapolis and came away with six points — something that hasn’t happened since Michigan last swept Minnesota on the road in 1977. The six points catapulted Michigan from sixth to fourth in conference standings, something that if the Wolverines can maintain would mean home ice in the Big Ten playoffs.
Michigan won by getting off to fast starts in both games; the Wolverines outscored the Golden Gophers 5-1 collectively in the first period for the weekend. Junior Brendan Warren scored three of his six total goals of the season against the Gophers. Sophomore Hayden Lavigne picked up his fifth and sixth wins of the season, stopping 41 in the process.
The losses give Minnesota a 4-9-1-1 conference record and drop the Gophers to sixth place in the league, three points ahead of last-place Michigan State. It’s the first time Minnesota has been swept at home since St. Cloud State beat them Nov. 27 and Nov. 29, 2015.
3. A B1G paradigm shift.
More than anything, the weekend’s results were a lesson in how quickly things can change when each game is worth three points. No one expected Michigan to sweep Minnesota — except, perhaps, for the Wolverines themselves — and those six points among the bottom six teams of the conference created a huge shift in dynamics.
Notre Dame still sits atop of the league standings with 36 points, undefeated in Big Ten play. There are now only two other teams in the league with winning conference records. Second-place Ohio State (8-5-1-0) has 25 points, followed by third-place Penn State (6-5-3-2) with 23 points. Fourth-place Michigan (5-7-2-1) has 18 points, followed by Wisconsin (5-7-2-0) with 17, Minnesota (4-9-1-1) with 14 and Michigan State (3-10-1-1) with 11. It is statistically possible but highly unlikely for anyone to catch Notre Dame, given the way Cale Morris and the rest of the Irish are playing.
Going into the weekend, we knew the rest of it was up for grabs — more or less — but few of us thought that someone near the bottom could be vying for home ice in the first round, or that Minnesota would be three points out of last place and fighting for NCAA postseason life, now tied for 15th in the PairWise.
What a weekend.