Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

Last Series Against Western Gives Michigan State Opportunity To Climb Rankings

The last series of the year against No. 8 Western Michigan is a better match-up for the Spartans than most suspect.

The two-game series gives Michigan State the opportunity to finish the season strong and earn 6 points in a series sweep. Though the Spartans have not swept another team all season, it remains a distinct possibility.

If the Spartans were to actually take both games in regulation, and Northern Michigan were to drop their series to Lake Superior State this weekend, that would lift MSU out of last in the CCHA.

Stretching things even farther, If Michigan State sweeps, and Northern Michigan and Michigan (Playing Ferris State this weekend) get swept, that would leave MSU ahead of Northern and tied with Michigan in the CCHA standings instead of behind them.

Though it looks like a huge stretch, it’s not so far-fetched. It first begins with Michigan State taking out the CCHA No. 2 Western Michigan Broncos, which could easily happen.

The Spartans

Michigan State has gone toe-to-toe with Western just once this year. The match-up occurred during the Great Lakes Invitational at Joe Louis Arena, and ended in a 1-1 tie, with the Bronco’s winning in a shootout. In that game Michigan State leading scorer Matt Berry put the team on his back and forced overtime by scoring a goal with just 16 seconds left in the game.

The Spartans own a 63-29-9 all-time record against the Broncos, which includes an impressive 33-5-6 record in games played at Munn.

While the Michigan State team is not the same as it was last year, the Spartans did sweep the Broncos in last year’s series. And that sweep occurred at Lawson Ice Arena in Kalamazoo. This year the Spartans have home ice advantage.

Western Michigan head coach Andy Murray holds up the Mason Cup after winning the 2012 CCHA Championship. Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

Both MSU and WMU are defensively minded teams. If the Spartans can find their scoring first in the defensive match-up it could mean bye bye Broncos.

Michigan State is 10-1-1 when scoring three or more goals this season, and just 1-20-2 when scoring two or fewer.

Similarly, MSU is 7-4-1 when scoring at least one power play goal, but only 3-17-2 when failing to score on the man advantage.

The Spartans will need to maintain their tight defense and penalty kill, but the name of the game may turn out to be offense and who opens up the scoring first in the series.

The Broncos

Western Michigan is No. 2 in the CCHA and No. 8 in the country. They are also the defending CCHA Tournament Champions and are clearly in a good position to defend that title.

However, Michigan State is the only CCHA team that the Broncos have not defeated under current head coach Andy Murray. Murray is 0-2-1 against the Spartans.

WMU has also struggled in the month of February. They’ve averaged just 1.86 goals per game so far this month. The second-worst average of all CCHA teams.

Western’s recent struggles and Michigan State’s tendency to finish strong (hopefully in the season as well) could spell victory for the Spartans. Of course, MSU rising out of last in the CCHA is also contingent on Northern Michigan and Michigan losing their next two games. Though it’s a stretch, it’s necessary to say that much weirder things have happened, and that Michigan State has a fair shot to climb.

Fun Fact: Travis Walsh has blocked a very impressive 26 shots over his last eight games, ranks second on the team in blocks, and is tied for eighth in the country with 64. His teammate John Draeger ranks even higher at fourth with 71 blocks, just 11 away from the national lead.

Tags: Hockey Michigan State Spartans Western Michigan Broncos

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