The Gophers will be without standout junior goaltender Adam Wilcox for Thursday night's series opener against Michigan State. Freshman Nick Lehr will make his first career start in the net.

Coach Don Lucia said Wilcox is "day-to-day," but didn't offer any more details on the health of the reigning Big Ten MVP. 

Wilcox had only given up 11 goals over the last six games and held opponents below two goals in five of the six, including a shutout of Michigan's nation-best offense. 

His absence doesn't come at a good time as the Gophers are fighting to defend their Big Ten regular-season championship. Michigan State is also an opponent that has given the Gophers problems over the past two years, especially in shootouts. 

Three of the six games the team's have played since the formation of the hockey conference have gone to overtime and eventually required shootouts. Each time the Spartans won the shootout and claimed the extra point in the Big Ten standings.

The Gophers are 0-5 in conference shootouts since joining the Big Ten, but despite the lack of success Lucia said the team isn't spending extra time practicing their skills for the postgame showcase. He's more concerned about refining the penalty kill or other areas of the team's game.

The Gophers showed signs of improvement during their last shootout at Wisconsin a month ago. The teams went seven rounds before the Badgers pulled away for the extra point. 

Every point has extra value with three weeks in the regular season remaining and four teams within two points of first place in the conference standings. The Gophers' three shootout losses this season equate to three lost points, the value of a Big Ten victory. 

Michigan State goaltender Jake Hildebrand has a good track record against the Gophers and will play a big role in stealing any points in the Big Ten race this week.

"Hildebrand has had a great career and he's having another outstanding season," Lucia said. "I like [the Spartans'] D-score. They're a tremendous shot-blocking team. ... We know goals are going to be at a premium."

The Gophers and Spartans will be in BTN's spotlight all Thursday night. The men's basketball teams open up the night of coverage at 6 p.m. and the men's hockey programs follow with the 8:12 p.m. start. Gophers hockey continues to play a big role in BTN's winter doubleheaders that feature different sports from the same university. 

• The Gophers are 6-1-1 over their last eight games and have climbed back into the rankings and playoff picture thanks to the revival of the senior class. Read about the six veteran's run of success and watch video of coach Don Lucia and senior forward Seth Ambroz previewing this weekend's series. 

• Series Preview: No. 15 Gophers vs. Michigan State
8:12 p.m. Thursday and 8:12 p.m. Friday at Mariucci Arena
TV/live stream: BTN and BTN2Go both nights; 107.1-FM on Thursday and 1500-AM on Friday.

Minnesota (17-10-3, 8-3-3 Big Ten): The Gophers know they control their destiny in the Big Ten race entering the three remaining regular-season series. Each of the top four teams split last weekend, keeping the standings stuck with the Gophers and Michigan tied for first place and Michigan State and Penn State just two points behind. The Gophers, however don’t need help from anyone to defend their title, they just need to win and are hoping that a home-ice advantage in four of the last six games will help them. They continue to get production throughout the lineup with the seniors contributing in a big way. Four of their five goals against Penn State last weekend were scored by seniors. The Gophers opened Big Ten play with a win and tie that ended in a shootout loss at Michigan State in early December.

For more on Michigan State and it's hockey goaltender, read the full series preview.

• Gophers' Thursday 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, Jack Glover

Defensemen (left, right)
Brady Skjei, Ryan Collins
Mike Reilly, Jake Bischoff
Ben Marshall, Michael Brodzinski

Goaltenders
Nick Lehr, Ryan Coyne

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Postgame: Wilcox should be available for Gophers' series finale