COLUMBUS, Ohio — Will the University of Wisconsin men's hockey team have its first Border Battle postseason series since 1989 next week?
That's the most likely scenario entering the final day of the Big Ten Conference regular season on Saturday.
The Badgers will finish seventh in the final standings and play the No. 2 seed in the first round of the league playoffs. Entering the final day, Minnesota holds that position and has a 59% chance of claiming it, according to PlayoffStatus.com.
Ohio State (27%) and Michigan (14%) also are in contention for the second spot and a quarterfinal series against UW.
The Badgers and the Gophers haven't played a multi-game playoff set since 1989, when Minnesota swept the Badgers in an NCAA quarterfinal series at the first incarnation of Mariucci Arena.
Minnesota can claim a share of the Big Ten title with a home win against Michigan on Saturday. Penn State has the tiebreaker (most Big Ten wins) and will have the No. 1 seed and first-round bye next week.
Michigan State plays at Notre Dame and Ohio State hosts the Badgers in the other games on the final day. None of the home-ice spots for next week's quarterfinals has been clinched.
Here's how the Big Ten standings look entering Saturday:
Original story, Feb. 28:
There's only one team that the University of Wisconsin can't play in next week's opening round of the Big Ten Conference men's hockey playoffs.
That's Michigan State, which has no chance of finishing in second place after this weekend's final games of the regular season.
According to PlayoffStatus.com, the most likely destination for the seventh-place Badgers for the best-of-three first round series is Penn State. The Nittany Lions, who ousted UW in three games in the first round last season, have a 50% chance of finishing second.
Minnesota is next at 20%, with Ohio State at 16%, Notre Dame at 13% and Michigan at 1%.
With three series left to be played on Friday and Saturday — UW at Ohio State, Michigan at Minnesota and Michigan State at Notre Dame — only the Badgers are locked into their spot in the standings.
Penn State (41 points), Ohio State (37), Minnesota (37) and Notre Dame (35) can get at least a share of the Big Ten title, although the Fighting Irish can't earn the No. 1 playoff seed and the first-round bye that comes with it.
In the first round, the No. 2 seed hosts No. 7, No. 3 hosts No. 6 and No. 4 hosts No. 5 in best-of-three series. The winners advance to single-game semifinals on March 14, with the championship game on March 21. Games in all three rounds are played at the home rink of the higher seed.
The Buckeyes control their outcome more than anyone else. Even if they sweep the Badgers and Minnesota keeps pace by sweeping Michigan, the Buckeyes get the top seed because of the way the Big Ten does tiebreakers.
Five of the six Division I men's conferences use the result of the season series between tied teams as the first tiebreaker. Minnesota had a 2-1-1 record against Ohio State.
But the first tiebreaker in the Big Ten is conference wins. The Buckeyes have 11; the Gophers have nine.
Regardless of Friday night's results, the Badgers won't know their playoff opponent after the opening games of the weekend. There's a scenario through which Penn State would wrap up the No. 1 spot Friday (if Ohio State and Minnesota both are held to one point or less), but the No. 2 seed will go down to the final day regardless.
Penn State is the only team that is guaranteed not to be on the road for the opening weekend of the playoffs. Ohio State and Minnesota can clinch a top-four finish with at least one point Friday, and Notre Dame can do the same with at least two points.
From the infirmary
The Badgers hope to get forward Sean Dhooghe and goaltender Jack Berry back into the lineup on Saturday.
Dhooghe has missed the last four games with a left-knee injury suffered against Michigan on Feb. 8. Berry hasn't been available to play since Feb. 1 after he picked up a lower-body injury in practice Feb. 4.
Be the first to know
Get local news delivered to your inbox!