After the final weekend of regular-season play, we know who’s playing where next weekend. I’d argue that’s about all we know.
As the top team in the conference, Notre Dame gets a bye for the first-round, best-of-three playoffs. That leaves these series for the upcoming weekend:
- No. 7 Michigan State at No. 2 Ohio State
- No. 6 Wisconsin at No. 3 Michigan
- No. 5 Minnesota at No. 4 Penn State
Here are three things I take away from the last weekend of the regular season.
1. Notre Dame is limping into the playoffs.
It’s an unpopular thing to say, I’m sure, but the Fighting Irish don’t strike me as team ready to make a run in postseason play. Notre Dame is 2-4-0 in its last six games, having split a home series with last-place Michigan State this past weekend. Sure, it’s easy to say that the Irish let down in their final game before their bye week when they lost 4-3 to Michigan State Saturday, but it’s a game that the top team in the conference and one of the top teams in the country should have won. Tied 2-2 going into the third, the Irish scored shorthanded in the first minute of the third period but then allowed two Michigan State goals midway before the third was over and then couldn’t overcome a one-goal deficit.
Kudos to Michigan State and junior defenseman Jerad Rosburg, whose first goal of the season was the game-winner at 8:50 in the third. Rosburg also assisted on two other goals. In fact, only Michigan State’s first line of Taro Hirose, Patrick Khodorenko and Mitchell Lewandowski plus defenseman Carson Gatt accounted for scoring — which means that the Irish were beaten by a single, really good line, a confident defense, and goaltender Jonathan Lethemon.
It’s a good thing that Notre Dame has that bye week. The Spartans head to Columbus with confidence.
2. Penn State and Minnesota are confounding teams.
After watching the Nittany Lions lay an egg in their first game of a two-game series in East Lansing two weeks ago, I am amazed at the way in which Penn State completely dominated Minnesota this past weekend. In Friday’s 5-1 win, the Nittany Lions put 61 shots on net and scored three goals in the closing period; in Saturday’s 5-2 win, Penn State led 3-0 until the 18:02 mark in the second period.
Penn State’s current three-game win streak follows an eight-game winless streak (0-6-2) in which the Nittany Lions mustered two conference points, having lost the two shootouts in which they were engaged.
Minnesota was 6-1-1 heading into that series against Penn State. Now the Golden Gophers will face off against the Nittany Lions again in the first round of the playoffs. Ninth in the PairWise Rankings, the Gophers looked to be a shoe-in for the NCAA tournament. Now it looks like they have the means to play themselves right into a longer postseason than they had originally anticipated.
3. The Buckeyes and Wolverines look good … for now.
I’ve been saying this for half a season: Ohio State looks like the best-rounded team in the Big Ten, and with 6-2 and 4-0 wins over visiting Wisconsin to end the regular season, I’m not seeing anything to change my mind. Five different Buckeyes accounted for Ohio State’s 10 goals and two goaltenders put up strong performances. Starter Sean Romeo made 36 saves in Friday’s game, and freshman Tommy Nappier stopped 31 in his second career shutout Saturday. Nappier has four decisions in his six game appearances this season — all wins and two shutouts in a row. The Buckeyes finish the second half of the season 9-4-1, all in Big Ten play. Their last game against their next opponent, Michigan State, was a 6-3 loss in Value City Arena.
Michigan took care of business against visiting Arizona State with two 5-3 wins and now ride a six-game undefeated streak (5-0-1) into the conference playoffs. Michigan went 8-5-1 in B1G play in the second half — especially impressive as their B1G season record is 11-10-3. These Wolverines are beginning to look like the Michigan of old: fast with a potentially deep and explosive offense, with solid goaltending and a confidence bordering on fearlessness. They are young, though, and they went 1-2-1 against Wisconsin in the regular season.