Big Ten Hockey: Regular season title going down to final weekend

Wisconsin needs to overcome a 5 point deficit next weekend to claim the far left trophy - Nathan Wells

Minnesota leads Wisconsin by 5 points entering next weekend after the Gophers tied and lost a shootout while the Badgers defeated Penn State in overtime.

Twice Saturday night it looked like Minnesota would leave Columbus with the inaugural Big Ten regular season championship. Instead, thanks to the Buckeyes and Badgers, the Gophers will have to wait at least one more weekend. So will Big Ten fans.

After a 2-2 tie against Ohio State that saw the Buckeyes come back with just under 4 minutes remaining in regulation, and subsequent shootout loss, Minnesota's hopes of a third straight regular season title (the team finished first in the WCHA the past two seasons) went to Penn State. If the Nittany Lions, playing Wisconsin at Pegula Arena, could win in either regulation or a shootout, the Gophers would still clinch. (Also it's funny that Minnesota had to hope for a Penn State shootout for the B1G title because that's a triple dip of "you ruined college hockey.")

The back door approach didn't work either.

Penn State tied the game late Saturday with a goal by Kenny Brooks. However, Wisconsin's Mark Zengerle scored with 20.3 seconds left in overtime for a 3-2 road win and all 3 points.

Big Ten Standings (March 8)

Points Wins Losses Ties Shootout Wins Games Remaining
Minnesota 42 13 2 3 0 2
Wisconsin 37 12 5 1 0 2
Michigan 30 9 7 2 1 2
Ohio State 24 5 8 5 4 2
Michigan State 22 4 8 6 4 2
Penn State 7 2 15 1 0 2


B1G point structure: 3 points for a regulation/OT win, 1 for a tie, 1 for a shootout win (SW = 2 for 1 game), 0 for a loss

Wisconsin's timely win gives the Badgers a five point deficit to make up during the final weekend of the regular season. In the Big Ten a regulation/OT win is worth 3 points, a tie is worth 1 and shootout win is worth an extra point. Entering next weekend Wisconsin has 37 points to Minnesota's 42.

Only those two teams can sit atop the Big Ten standings.


While the Gophers can clinch the title as early as Friday - Don Lucia's club needs any combination of 2 points won or dropped by Wisconsin - it will have to do so on the road in Ann Arbor. The Badgers, meanwhile, will also be in the the Great Lake State. Mike Eaves and company travel to East Lansing to play fifth-place Michigan State.

If the two teams tie in points, seeding will be broken by one of several tiebreakers. The first tiebreaker is wins, which currently Minnesota (13 to Wisconsin's 12) would take. In case that was tied, the second tiebreaker is head-to-head record (or the best record between all teams if three or more are tied - not the case this year). That is a wash because both teams swept the other at home.

The third tiebreaker is conference goal differential where the goals against are subtracted from goals for. Since Wisconsin needs a 10 goal swing in the last two games, it basically needs to sweep the Spartans and have Michigan do the same.

There was one thing decided this weekend, though. Both Minnesota and Wisconsin have clinched first round byes as the top two seeds for the Big Ten postseason tournament. Michigan, which lost 4-3 Saturday to Michigan State, is 7 points behind and will be third seed. The Wolverines face Penn State in the first round.

2014 Big Ten Tournament Schedule (all games played at Xcel Energy Center)

First Round - Thursday, March 20

#3 Michigan vs. #6 Penn State (Time TBD)

Ohio State vs. Michigan State (Time and Seeding TBD)

Semifinals -Friday, March 21

#2 Wisconsin vs. Michigan/Penn State winner - 2:00 p.m. CT

#1 Minnesota vs. Ohio State/Michigan State winner - 7:00 p.m. CT

Championship Game -Saturday, March 22

Semifinal Winner #1 vs. Semifinal Winner #2

BTN will broadcast all 5 games

--

Nathan Wells is a college hockey columnist for SB Nation. You can also follow him on Twitter --

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