Anchorage at Home for the Playoffs? Piece of Cake...
For the second year in a row, the Gophers will host the Alaska Anchorage Seawolves in the first round of the WCHA playoffs. What could POSSIBLY go wrong?
Yes, the Maroon and Gold were swept last year and had their season ended, but the similarities between this year and last should end there, as this year’s version of the Gophers is vastly superior to the 2010-11 version, while the Seawolves finished dead-last by a country mile this year as opposed to their eighth place finish a season ago.
Last weekend the Gophers capped their impressive regular season (in conference play at least) by winning the MacNaughton Cup outright by splitting against the Badgers. That, coupled with UMD’s one-point weekend in St. Cloud, locked Minnesota into a first place finish and completed their “wire to wire” run from October through March as being the top team in the WCHA.
As we’ve discussed in recent weeks, due to the team’s poor non-conference record (4-4-1) they can’t really climb up the PairWise standings all that much. They are tied for 6th right now so unless they win the Final Five (and even then it’s iffy they’d secure a No. 1 seed), the key for the team will be not losing to UAA this weekend (which would kill their RPI and thus their PairWise ranking) and staying in the 5-8 range in the PairWise, which would give them a No. 2 seed at the West Regional at the Xcel Energy Center in three weeks.
The Gophers swept Anchorage up in Alaska earlier this season by scores of 5-0 and 3-1, but those games were in late October so there’s not a lot you can take away from said contests. Regardless, the Seawolves have won four road games all season and have just three total wins in their last 17 games. Nobody on the team has more than nine goals and their leading scorers have 16 points. They are last in the WCHA in terms of scoring offense, scoring defense, and power play.
One of the only real concerns (in theory) for the Gophers this weekend (and for the rest of their season for that matter) is that they haven’t been scoring a whole bunch of goals in recent weeks; they’ve averaged a total of 2.5 goals per game over their last 12. Anchorage is going to try to win a low-scoring affair and if they get a lead, they could – again, in theory – keep four or five guys at their own blueline, force the Gophers to dump it in, etc. Again, not likely, but something to keep an eye out for.
For the Gophers, they need to continue to do what they’ve done (for the most part) all year: get solid goaltending from Kent Patterson, have the top line (Kyle Rau, Nick Bjugstad, and Zach Budish) score a goal or so per game, limit the mistakes on defense and win the special teams battle. That scenario has played out more times than not this season, so it’s reasonable to assume that can continue for at least one more weekend against a vastly inferior opponent.
Should the Gophers take care of business and advance, they’ll play in the Friday night game at the Final Five. Should the four top teams (Minnesota, UMD, DU, and UND), the brackets line up so that the Gophers would play the winner of UND’s Thursday “play-in” game, while UMD would play the winner of DU’s “play-in” game, as there is no reseeding once they get to St. Paul. So, while a lot of things have to happen to get to this point, it’s not totally unrealistic to start looking forward to another Gopher-Sioux showdown at the X, which would be epic to say the least.
Other WCHA First Round Series
Minnesota State at Minnesota Duluth
Wisconsin at Denver
Bemidji State at North Dakota
Michigan Tech at Colorado College
Nebraska-Omaha at St. Cloud State