A favorable schedule makes the Gophers' aspirations of climbing out of their hole to win the Big Ten regular-season championship seem somewhat attainable.
With this weekend's series against fifth-place Ohio State, the Gophers will have had back-to-back series against the conference's bottom two teams while trying to recover from their two-plus months of setbacks. A last-second goal got them out of Madison, Wis., with limited damage -- a win and tie -- and they'll need the same sort of success against the struggling Buckeyes to keep championship hopes alive.
Even if the Gophers don't win the regular-season conference championship, they need to start showing they can win two games in a weekend if they hope to succeed in the postseason. Ohio State has lost four in a row and hasn't won two consecutive games all season.
"I think the good thing is we're trending up as a team, right now," Gophers senior forward Travis Boyd said. "I think we're getting better each week and getting two wins this weekend will be huge for us getting into the Big Ten race and keep the momentum going moving forward."
Michigan is at the top of the standings with seven conference wins and 21 points. The Gophers, who are 3-2-3 and in fourth place with 12 points, host the Wolverines next weekend and travel to second-place Penn State the following week.
Three of the Gophers' first Big Ten series were on the road, meaning they'll play four of their final six series at home.
"It is a good thing," to play at home during this final stretch, Gophers coach Don Lucia said. "We've had a long stretch on the road. Now we've gotta take care of business at home. We've been pretty good at home. I think we've played better here maybe than we have on the road from a consistency standpoint, and hopefully that's going to help in our favor 'cause we need to win some games and hopefully we can continue to do that."
• Most of the questions I've been fielding over the past month have been about the safety of coach Don Lucia's job. Disgruntled fans blame the veteran coach for this year's underachievement. Read about why so many are unhappy and join the discussion. Offer your grade of Lucia's work and check out his resume. Watch video of Lucia and senior forward Travis Boyd previewing the weekend.
• Series Preview: Gophers vs. Ohio State
Friday 8:12 p.m., Saturday 7:05 p.m. at Mariucci Arena
TV/radio/live stream: BTN tonight and FSN Plus on Saturday; 1500-AM both nights; BTN2Go both nights.
Gophers at a glance: The loss of top goal-scorer Connor Reilly (out indefinitely with a lower-body injury) will force the Gophers (12-9-3, 3-2-3 Big Ten) to restructure the lineup with only six regular-season series left. Reilly, a top-nine forward that spent time on the first line and on the first power-play unit, was kneed last weekend at Wisconsin and left the game. It will be a month before he’s revaluated to determine if he can return before the end of the season. The Gophers had to rally on both nights against two-win Wisconsin for a victory and tie. The fourth-place Gophers need to sweep the Buckeyes to set up a big weekend against first-place Michigan in two weeks.
TV note: BTN will feature a Big Ten hockey doubleheader on Friday night with Wisconsin at Penn State on at 5:30 p.m.
For more on Ohio State, read the full series preview.
• Gophers' Friday lines
Forwards (left wing, center, right wing)
Leon Bristedt, Kyle Rau, Hudson Fasching
Sam Warning, Travis Boyd, Seth Ambroz
Taylor Cammarata, Justin Kloos, Vinni Lettieri
A.J. Michaelson, Christian Isackson, Ryan Reilly
Defensemen (left, right)
Mike Reilly, Jake Bischoff
Brady Skjei, Ryan Collins
Ben Marshall, Michael Brodzinski
Adam Wilcox, Nick Lehr, Ryan Coyne
• Minnesotans in Ohio State's lineup
Drew Brevig, Soph. defenseman, Lakeville
Blake Doerring, Jr. defenseman, Chanhassen
Matt Johnson, Sr. forward, Stillwater
Al McLean, Sr. defenseman, Duluth