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Thursday, June 20, 2024
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Series preview: Badgers hunt Spartans for Big Ten regular season title

The Badgers and Spartans take to the Kohl Center in a two-game series this weekend to determine the Big Ten regular-season title.

With the Big Ten regular season title on the line, the No. 4 Wisconsin Badgers men’s hockey team are set to round out their season at the Kohl Center with a series against the No. 6 Michigan Spartans this Friday and Saturday. 

Wisconsin returns to home ice after an eventful road stint against two other Big Ten opponents, where they were swept by Ohio State before turning around and sweeping Penn State. 

The Badgers (24-8-2, 15-6-1 Big Ten) trail the Spartans (21-8-3, 15-5-2 Big Ten) by a mere two points in the Big Ten standings. To edge out Michigan State for the title and acquire the first-round playoff bye, the Badgers must acquire five of the six points in the series. That means Wisconsin must win both games, with at least one being in regulation. 

If the Badgers only take four points, they will end the season in a tie for first in the standings and Michigan State will be granted the bye due to tiebreakers.

In the early stages of the season, the Badgers took to the road to meet the Spartans in East Lansing, where Wisconsin was handed their first two Big Ten losses of the season in a series sweep. 

However, the Badgers have proven to be a force to be reckoned with when in the Kohl Center. They carry a dominant 12-2-2 season home record, with their 12 wins being the most the team has seen at home since their 17-win dominance in the 2013-14 season. 

A sweep is crucial if the Badgers hope to take the title, and they’ll need to maintain a powerful offense if they want to see the series go their way. If the Badgers open up more chances on the offense while putting their power play to use, they’ll certainly break through the Spartans’ weakness: their defense. 

On the other hand, Michigan State brings its own set of forces into the weekend. The Spartans boast a top-six offensive ranking and a fourth-place national ranking in power play percentage. Still, they’ll have to put up a fight if they hope to break into the Badgers’ defensive stronghold, fortified by senior goaltender Kyle McClellan.

McClellan, a top-10 finalist for the prestigious Mike Richter Award, leads the nation in save percentage and shutouts. Coming into the weekend, McClellan holds seven shutouts throughout the season, trailing closely behind the Badgers record of Brian Elliot’s eight from the 2005-06 season. 

Alongside McClellan, the Kohl Center will honor seven other seniors during Senior Night on Saturday, including Sam Stange, Mathieu De St. Phalle, David Silye, Carson Bantle, Anthony Kehrer, Luke LaMaster and Ben Garrity. 

Puck drop is at 8 p.m. on Friday and Saturday. The Badgers will either host Ohio State in a quarterfinal series the following week if they drop a game to the Spartans or take advantage of the winner’s bye week and return on Sunday, March 17. 

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