Gophers at Penn State. 5:30 p.m. Friday; 7 p.m. Saturday (BTN, 1500-AM both games)

Preview: The No. 5 Gophers (18-8-2, 9-3 Big Ten), in first place in the Big Ten standings with 27 points, open a crucial four-game stretch in league play with a series at third-place Penn State. The ninth-ranked Nittany Lions (18-6-2, 7-4-1) were swept by the Gophers two weeks ago at Mariucci Arena and have cooled considerably after rising to the top of the national rankings for the first time in program history. Penn State is 5-4-1 in its past 10 games, while the Gophers are 7-3. The Gophers, who are shooting for their fourth consecutive Big Ten title, play second-place Wisconsin at Mariucci Arena next weekend.

Players to watch: Gophers F Leon Bristedt, who is expected to play in his 100th college game Friday, has three goals and four assists in the past three games. F Vinni Lettieri, who has reached career highs in points (29) and goals (15) this season, is on a career-best six-game point streak; he has four goals and five assists in that span. Penn State F Denis Smirnov, the nation’s highest-scoring freshman, is tied for third place in the conference with 34 points (14 goals, 20 assists). The game will feature the two top-scoring defensemen in the Big Ten: the Gophers’ Jake Bischoff (24 points) and the Nittany Lions’ Trevor Hamilton (23).

Numbers: Penn State remains the nation’s highest-scoring team (4.27 goals per game), and it also leads the country in shots on goal (46.3 per game) and shot margin (plus-20.2). The Gophers rank fourth in scoring (3.89 goals per game) and power-play percentage (.271). They have scored power-play goals in seven consecutive games and 12 of their past 13.

RACHEL BLOUNT