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Border Battle comes to Madison as Badgers host Gophers in top-10 showdown

The Badgers have a crucial weekend ahead of them with the Border Battle.

Syndication: Journal Sentinel Dave Kallmann / Milwaukee Journal Sentinel / USA TODAY NETWORK

Disclaimer: This article has been written and submitted by Taylor Valentine, who will help cover Badgers hockey.

The Wisconsin Badgers are facing off against the Minnesota Golden Gophers at the Kohl Center this weekend, marking the first Top 10 matchup between the historic rivals since 2006. Both teams are coming off a split in their respective series last weekend, but have been hot in the new year.

Wisconsin (20-5-1 overall, 11-3 Big Ten) enters the weekend series ranked fourth in the USCHO polls, while Minnesota (15-7-4 overall, 8-7-3 Big Ten) maintains its ninth-place ranking.

The Badgers traveled to Minneapolis and swept the Gophers back in October. Minnesota undoubtedly comes to Madison looking to return the favor.

Bucky sits in second place in the Big Ten, six points ahead of third-place Minnesota and holding two games in hand. A solid performance in the Border Battle would create separation and go a long way toward keeping pace with Michigan State, who holds a five-point lead over the Badgers while playing two more games to this point.

Home ice has been friendly to the Badgers this year (10-1-1) thanks in large part to the play of senior goaltender Kyle McClellan.

McClellan’s name is prominently featured on the national leaderboards, entering the weekend giving up the fourth least goals per game (1.919), third in save percentage (93 percent), and first in goaltender wins (18).

McClellan faces a tough task trying to slow down Minnesota’s dynamic duo of sophomore forward Jimmy Snuggard (18 G) and junior forward Rhett Pitlick (15 G), both among the nation’s leading goalscorers. Add senior forward Bryce Brodzinski (13 G) to the mix and the Gophers present a potent offense that aims to put pressure on Wisconsin’s back line all weekend.

Key to the game

Cliché as it sounds, this series will come down to the power play. Wisconsin excels at getting to the man advantage, pressuring opponents into over five penalties per game, and converting on over 19 percent of their power play opportunities. If the Badgers can draw penalties against a Gopher squad averaging only 2.8 per game they will like their chances for the series.

The unstoppable force will meet the immovable object in the form of Minnesota’s power play and Wisconsin’s penalty kill. The Gopher power play ranks eighth in the country, converting 26 percent of the time with the man advantage. On the other side of the ice, Wisconsin boasts the nation’s third-ranked penalty kill and will hope to stymie Minnesota’s explosive offensive unit, leaning heavily on McClellan to take away the angles.

Players will need to keep their emotions in check and avoid taking unnecessary penalties. Both teams deal significant damage on the power play and can ill-afford spending too much time in the box. Whichever team controls the power play will likely hold the key to the series.

Prediction

Can Wisconsin get to the power play and convert? Will Minnesota’s scoring depth find the back of the net against one of the nation’s premier goaltenders?

The juice is flowing for rivalry weekend, and a sold-out Kohl Center will be rocking in red. It’s hard to sweep your rival, let alone twice in the same season. With that said, I like the Badgers to get it done.

I predict one tight defensive game decided by a late go-ahead goal, and one game where the offenses open up the ice and light the lamp. Wisconsin’s penalty kill will shine when it matters most, limiting the Gopher attack and giving Mike Hastings his first regular-season sweep against Minnesota as Wisconsin’s head coach in year one.

Game Info

Game 1

Date: Friday, February 2

Time: 7 P.M. CT

Place: Madison, WI / Kohl Center

TV: B1G+ Radio: 1310 WIBA

Game 2

Date: Saturday, February 3

Time: 7 P.M. CT

Place: Madison, WI / Kohl Center

TV: B1G+ Radio: 1310 WIBA