Pickin’ the Big Ten: Feb. 23-24

The final weekend of regular-season Big Ten hockey is here! My writing partner Drew Claussen’s pick record and mine has nearly converged as the season has progressed, and I’m happy to say that we’re both on track to finish the season above .500.

Last week

Drew: 3-2-1 (.583)
Paula: 3-2-1 (.583)

This season

Drew: 86-49-14 (.624)
Paula: 89-46-14 (.644)

This week

Everyone plays this week. Notre Dame and Ohio State are locked into the top two spots in the conference and Michigan State cannot climb out of seventh, so we know that Notre Dame has a first-round bye for next week’s playoff series and that Ohio State is hosting Michigan State for that weekend’s best-of-three play. We also know that Michigan will host a first-round series, but we don’t know if the Wolverines will finish in their current third place or fourth.

This week’s standings drama comes from where Minnesota, Penn State and Wisconsin will finish. The Golden Gophers are currently in fourth place with 33 points and the Badgers and Nittany Lions are behind them, each with 28 points.

Only the Minnesota-Penn State series is televised and both of those games are carried by the Big Ten Network. All times are local.

Michigan State at No. 5 Notre Dame

Drew: This is a good opportunity for Notre Dame to get back on track after three losses before the postseason begins. As they showed last time these two played, the Spartans can keep up with the Irish. That being said, I like Notre Dame to sweep this series at home.

Paula: Notre Dame must reclaim some momentum heading into the first-round bye week. Also, the Irish will be keeping their eyes on the PairWise Rankings, where they’re currently No. 2. I like an Irish sweep as well. Friday’s game in the Compton Family Ice Arena begins at 7:35 p.m., Saturday’s at 7:05 p.m.

Drew’s picks: Notre Dame 4-1, 3-1.
Paula’s picks: Notre Dame 2-1, 2-1.

No. 8 Minnesota at No. 18 Penn State

Drew: The race for the final home-ice spot is officially still on, but it would be pretty monumental if Minnesota let it slip from its grasp. This should be a higher-scoring series and it’s made more interesting by the possibility that it could also be a first-round tournament match up. I’ll take Penn State winning on Friday and keeping the home ice dream alive until Minnesota locks it up on Saturday.

Paula: There’s more at stake than that in this series, as the Gophers are eighth in the PWR and the Nittany Lions are outside looking in at 17th. These teams split a series in Minneapolis in October. The Gophers are 6-3-1 in their last 10 games. Penn State is 2-8-2 in the last 10. I like Minnesota to sweep. Friday’s game begins at 6:30 p.m. in the Pegula Family Ice Arena, Saturday’s at 7:00, and the Big Ten Network has them both.

Drew’s picks: Penn State 4-2, Minnesota 5-3.
Paula’s picks: Minnesota 3-2, 3-2.

Wisconsin at No. 6 Ohio State

Drew: Though they’ve had a nice season and are set up nicely for a NCAA berth, I still think the Buckeyes can level up their game another notch. The defense and penalty kill have been outstanding and the power play is a respectable 12th in the nation, but with players like Tanner Laczynski, Matthew Weis, Mason Jobst and Dakota Joshua I think Ohio State should be averaging more than three goals per game. If their offense finds another gear then a postseason run could be in the cards.

Paula: I can’t argue with anything Drew’s said here. The Buckeyes seem to be the best-rounded B1G team heading into the postseason, and they can’t afford to falter now. These teams split a series to open the regular season the first weekend in October. While Ohio State appears to be the better, more consistent team, both the Badgers and the Buckeyes are 2-3-1 in their last six games. This series should be intense. Games Friday and Saturday at Value City Arena begin at 7:05 p.m.

Drew’s picks: Ohio State 4-2, 3-1.
Paula’s picks: Ohio State 3-1, 3-2.

Arizona State at No. 13 Michigan

Drew: In their third year of existence, the Sun Devils have been no slouch this season. They’ve beaten Northern Michigan, Michigan Tech (twice), and UMass-Lowell and tied Omaha. The schedule on their website also points to two-goal losses in which they scored empty-net goals, which is something I have never seen before; however, I like the way Michigan has been rolling as of late, so I think the Wolverines will find a way to sweep.

Paula: The Wolverines cannot let up this weekend — absolutely cannot. Michigan is a PairWise bubble team, and while the Wolverines finished the regular Big Ten season with a nice little four-game unbeaten streak and that road sweep of Notre Dame, they are young and may falter. These two teams met once last year, a 4-1 Michigan road win. Optimistically, I’m picking a sweep because I have faith in goaltender Hayden Lavigne’s increasingly confident play. Games begin at 7:35 p.m. both Friday and Saturday nights in Yost Ice Arena.

Drew’s picks: Michigan 5-2, 4-1.
Paula’s picks: Michigan 4-2, 4-2.

It’s a Twitter world

You should follow Drew (@drewclaussen) and me (@paulacweston) on Twitter, because each of us occasionally says something useful. Recovering from Olympic hockey this week and gearing up for the B1G playoffs, I’m not actually at a rink this weekend, but I’ll be watching the Minnesota-Penn State series and chiming in.