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Weekend Preview: Michigan State at Michigan

Spartans and Wolverines face off in opening round of the Big Ten tournament

Duel In The D: Michigan v Michigan State Photo by Dave Reginek/Getty Images

As the dust settles at the end of a chaotic logjam in Big Ten hockey, the tournament seedings open a new chapter in hockey’s most-played rivalry.

The season’s first meeting was about the rivalry. The second was for crucial points in the conference standings. This weekend’s is all about moving on.

The No. 6 seed Michigan State Spartans (15-17-2, 11-11-2) and No. 3 seed Michigan Wolverines (16-14-4, 11-10-5) are guaranteed a 329th and 330th meeting in the weekend’s three game series. Game 331 is contingent on a split of the first two games. The Wolverines hold the edge in the all-time series leading 167-137-24 and added two victories in the squads’ recent meeting in mid-February. The Wolverines took down the Spartans handily, winning 5-1 in the first leg in East Lansing and 4-1 at Little Caesars Arena. In their first meeting this season, the Spartans swept a home-and-home, taking down the Wolverines 4-3 in Ann Arbor and 3-0 in East Lansing.

Michigan heads home to host the first round fresh off of a weekend split on the road at Minnesota. Game one ended in a 2-2 tie, with Michigan earning the extra point in the shootout. The Wolverines took game two outright, narrowly winning 2-1. They finished the season in a three way tie for second place with Ohio State and Minnesota, all with 38 points. The Spartans split their last series against Notre Dame in South Bend, winning 3-1 in the first leg and tying 2-2 in the second. Notre Dame secured the extra point in the shootout. The Spartans finished the season in sixth place with 35 points.

Michigan State leads the all-time postseason record between the two teams 15-9. In their last playoff matchup the Wolverines were victorious, winning 4-1 in the 2015 Big Ten semifinals at Joe Louis Arena. The teams have not played a post season game in Ann Arbor since 1966.

The Spartans will lean on their large upperclassmen core as they face the Wolverines the fifth and sixth time. Senior forwards Patrick Khodorenko, Sam Saliba, and Logan Lambdin are among the spartans top scorers, along with juniors Mitch Lewandowski and Tommy Apap. Khodorenko leads all skaters on either team entering the weekend with 16 goals and 17 assists. Michigan State’s netminder John Lethemon carries a .937 save-percentage, 2.10 goals-against average, and 15-13-2 record into the first round slate. His save-percentage and goals-against average rank fourth and 13th in the NCAA, respectively. He also has five shutouts, tying him for second-most of all goaltenders. The Spartans have seven players in double-digit scoring, including two defenseman in Jerad Rosburg and Dennis Cesana.

The Wolverines boast 14 players in double-digit scoring. Senior forwards Jake Slaker and Will Lockwood lead the pack with 28 and 21 points. Freshman defenseman Cam York leads the Wolverine blue line with 5 goals and 11 assists. Netminder Strauss Mann enters the weekend with a 16-13-4 record, a .936 save-percentage, and a 1.97 goals-against average. Mann’s stat-lines are good for sixth and eighth in the NCAA, while his four shutouts put him in a tie for third in the nation.

The series winner will play a single-game semifinal against the winner of No. 2 seed Ohio State vs No. 7 seed Wisconsin. The higher seed will host the matchup, meaning the Spartans could potentially host Wisconsin if both teams are victorious in round one.

Friday and Saturday’s puck drops are set for 7 p.m. If necessary, Sunday’s series finale will begin at 6 p.m. All games will be played at Yost Ice Arena in Ann Arbor, Michigan.