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Is This The End? Hockey Opens B1G Tournament

Spartans play Ohio State trying to extend their season

Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

It is win or go home for the Spartan hockey team,beginning Thursday night at the XCel Energy Center in St. Paul Minnesota. The Spartans, fresh off a weekend split with Wisconsin, come into the B1G tournament as the five seed after an up and (mostly) down regular season. The Spartans will take the ice against the fourth seed Ohio State Buckeyes, a team they went 0-1-3 against. The last three times these two have met the game has ended in a shootout, with the Spartans winning once and the Buckeyes winning twice.

The Buckeyes feature the most prolific power play in league play and league leader in points, Ryan Dzingel. Michigan State has been one of the few teams in the league to hold Dzingel in check, as outside of a hat trick in the first game between these teams, he has only been able to get one assist in the past three outings. While Jake Hildebrand has garnered much attention as one of the top goaltenders in the B1G, these two teams actually have each surrendered 2.75 goals against per game in conference play. In the second half of the season the Buckeyes have split time between goaltenders Matt Tomkins and Christian Frey. Frey a mid-season addition from the USHL has posted better numbers and started both games in the last series against the Spartans.

The Buckeyes come into the B1G tournament off a weekend split as well. After defeating the Penn State Nittany Lions 4-2 Friday night, riding 40 saves from Frey and two goals by Dzingel, the Buckeyes were beat by the Nittany Lions 4-2 Saturday. With the success of Frey against the Spartans this season and the fact he played better last weekend I'd guess he is who the Buckeyes will go with on Thursday night.

Ohio State Buckeyes 16-13-5 (6-9-5 B1G)

Time/TV: 8:00 P.M. Big Ten Network

Previous Recaps: Feb 7-8, Jan 10-11

Ohio State Buckeyes Stats Match-Up (National Rank) Michigan State Spartans
3.21 (12) Goals Per Game 2.23 (53)
2.74 (30) Goals Against Per Game 2.60 (22)
21.48 (10) Power Play Percentage 16.18% (40)
78.0% (50) Penalty Kill Percentage 79.1% (48)
Ryan Dzingel 20G, 23A- 43 pts. Leading Scorers Greg Wolfe 12G, 18A- 30 pts
Christian Frey 7-3-3 .930 save % Expected Goaltenders Jake Hildebrand 9-14-7 .923 save %

The 3 Keys To Spartan Success

  1. Power Play- Hey! A penalty kill worse than the Spartans! The Spartan power play was outstanding last weekend, scoring on 4 of 5 chances against a Wisconsin penalty kill that is in the top 20 nationally. Against the Buckeyes the Spartans went 3 of 16 but were 2 for 6 in their latest meeting. Ever since the return of Matt DeBlouw to the lineup the Spartans have been steadily improving each weekend on the power play. Coach Tom Anastos has tried to find a forward to play the point position all season, shuffling between Tanner Sorenson, Greg Wolfe and the successful DeBlouw. In a single elimination playoff format the power play is going to play a large role for the Spartans Thursday night. Ohio State averages 11.07 penalty minutes/game so the Spartans may only get 3-4 opportunities and they need to make them count.
  2. Jake Hildebrand- This is the easy one. You can ride a hot goaltender to heights you never thought possible. Just ask the 2007 Spartans who rode Jeff Lerg and some timely goals all the way to the national championship. If the Spartans are to get on a roll this weekend they will need improved play from Hildebrand. He may be wearing down from a long season, with so many consecutive starts but Hildebrand has not been himself the past 3 starts, surrendering more than 3 goals each night out. The Spartans luckily have found some offense the past few weekends but that can't be relied upon for a three game stretch this weekend.
  3. John Draeger vs Ryan Dzingel- The Spartans had a chance if they could beat Wisconsin last Saturday to jump Ohio State for 4th place. That may sound like just a cosmetic change but it actually hurt the Spartans strategically to not get that spot. The home team gets last change and can earn an advantage by putting a top line against a bottom line. You have to imagine that Tom Anastos will want the Draeger-Chelios pairing out with the Dzingel line as much as possible. If Draeger can shut down Dzingel there is a great chance the Spartans live to play another day Friday against top seed Minnesota.

This post will act as the game thread also.Interact with me during the game if you wish @Jeremy_Dewar on Twitter as well. Go Green! Go White!

****Bonus Link: I talked B1G hockey with the other SBnation hockey writers over at Off Tackle Empire. Its a great read and you should definitely check it out!