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Playoff Picture: The Waiting Is The Hardest Part

It might be tomfoolery to hope for second place but it’s not being petty to want to avoid a near month-long layoff.

Photo by Heather Weikel

Big Ten Standings

The Lions are in a good position heading into the final weekend of the regular season. The rest of the league will compete as Guy Gadowsky’s squad rests at home with a 4 point lead in the standings.

There are three teams that can catch Penn State but only two that can pass them. Notre Dame could sweep its final series and end up with 41 points, but the Lions would win the tie-breaker for having more conference wins.

Ohio State plays Wisconsin at home and Minnesota hosts Michigan. Wisconsin is last in the standings but is coming off a huge sweep against Arizona State, so the Buckeyes may appear to have the best shot at passing the Lions but it won’t be easy. The Wolverines are playing as well as anyone in college hockey right now so the Gophers will have their hands full, too.

If Penn State holds on to first place, it will have another bye next week during the first round of the Big Ten Tournament. At this point whether additional time off is good or bad no longer matters; the team will play on and make the most of either outcome. No one will be upset that the team wins its first Big Ten regular season title, adding a banner to the rafters of the Pegula Ice Arena.

With Brandon Biro back and having worked the rust off, and Clayton Phillips making his return last weekend, the team will be as close to full strength when it plays next as it has been all season.

National Picture

Penn State appears to have clinched a spot in the NCAA Tournament. Nothing is official until all of the games are played, but College Hockey News runs a very reliable simulation and it has the chances at 100%.

The RK column is the current PairWise Ranking and as you can see, the Lions are sitting in 7th place. The AL column represents the chances of a team getting an at-large bid, the AQ is the odds of winning the conference title to qualify automatically.

With so many teams playing well in the Big Ten conference, anything could happen in the tournament. It is nice to know that the Lions will be making a return to the NCAA Tournament, the third in four years after being the last team left out a year ago. That is quite a feat for the program.

Penn State will have to reload next year, with as many as half of the players graduating or moving on after the season. There is a great deal of talent in the pipeline so don’t expect a major drop-off. The future may be bright and the trajectory of the program is upward, but this year is a rare opportunity to make a run at a national title.

The Lions have a group of juniors and seniors that have had a great deal of success at the college level. This will be their final chance to make a statement. The team may have as few as two more games left to play or as many as nine. We will have to wait and see for now, something that may be a common theme in the coming month.

If the Lions win the Big Ten regular season title and then lose in the semi-finals of the Big Ten Tournament, they would play just one game in the next 33 days until the NCAA Tournament kicks off on March 28. No one wants it to work out that way but if it should, the team and its fans will do their best to be ready when the puck drops in Allentown.