5:30 p.m. Thursday at MSU; 7 p.m. Saturday at Madison Square Garden, New York

TV; radio: BTN; 1130-AM, 103.5-FM

2 games, 2 cities for Gophers

Preview: The Gophers (13-12-1, 4-9-1-1 Big Ten) enter this series needing victories over the Spartans (9-14-1, 3-10-1-1) to bolster their sinking NCAA tournament hopes. Minnesota has sunk to sixth in the seven-team Big Ten with five consecutive league losses. “We need two wins this weekend no matter what,’’ Gophers freshman forward Casey Mittelstadt said. … Michigan State is coming off a split at Wisconsin; the Spartans won the opener 2-0 but fell 5-2 in the finale.

Players to watch: Gophers coach Don Lucia said forward Tommy Novak (upper-body injury) has been cleared to play, but the staff will decide if he will. Novak is tied with Mittelstadt for second on the team in points with 18. … Freshman forward Mitch Lewandowski (14 goals, 13 assists, 27 points) and sophomore forward Taro Hirose (7-20—27) lead the Spartans’ in scoring. Sophomore goalie John Lethemon is 9-12-1 with a 2.68 goals-against average.

By the numbers: The Gophers swept Michigan State 3-1 and 4-0 in Minneapolis on Nov. 3-4. … The Gophers are averaging 2.62 goals per game, which ranks 41st nationally. … Minnesota scored one power-play goal each game against Michigan last week, but the Gophers power-play ranks only 50th nationally (13.6 percent).

Randy Johnson