(6) Michigan Wolverines @ (20) Minnesota Golden Gophers
The Gophers got the start they wanted Thursday night, keeping Michigan's top line in check. The total commitment to defense meant the Gophers had nothing left on the offensive side. Michigan capitalized on a terrible Gopher turnover midway through the first to open the scoring. Minnesota's Ryan Collins was skating backwards, trying to regroup in his own zone and had his pocket picked by Michigan's Alex Kile. Schierhorn forced Kile wide, but not before he threw the puck in front of the crease. Collins knocked the puck into his own net in what can only be described as a nightmare sequence. Kile would score again on a power play in the second, doubling Michigan's lead. Minnesota had chances throughout the second and third but could not get anything going. Michigan scored 4 times in a five minute span at the end of the third to blow the game wide open. The Gophers scored two goals late to avoid the shutout. Alex Kile also notched a hat trick. The win temporarily pushed Michigan into first.
The Gophers found themselves in a must win game if they were to win yet another conference championship. Michigan got on the board first, but the Gophers were able to tie it up midway through the first. Minnesota got its first lead of the series seven minutes into the second but Michigan's high powered offense would tie it up near the end of the period. The Gophers suffocated Michigan in the third period, something the Wolverines typically don't experience, out-shooting them 12-3. Neither team scored in the period, sending this pivotal match up to overtime. nearly a minute into overtime, Minnesota's Connor Reilly found Tommy Novak on a nice pass through the neutral zone, Novak dropped a pass to a streaking Hudson Fasching who one-timed a shot past Racine, pushing the Gophers back into first place. Racine was great on Thursday but gave up one or two really soft goals and all three were from distance Friday.
The Gophers did what they needed to do to make them the favorites to win the regular season title. The loss on Thursday likely pushes them out of a spot for an auto-bid. The Gophers will need to win out and lose to Michigan in the BTT Championship Game to have an outside chance at qualifying and it would still take a lot of help. Gopher fans need to root against Penn State and UNO while having Mankato, Norhteastern, and Bemidji State all do well while missing out on their conferences' auto-bids. Michigan's win on Thursday likely makes them a lock for the NCAA tournament but will need to pick up at least 1 point on Minnesota with a considerably harder schedule (H/H OSU, vsPSU vs @MSU, vsWI). If Steve Racine can keep up his stellar play, Michigan will make noise in the NCAA tournament.
Ohio State hosted the Badgers looking to get back into 4th place. The Buckeyes opened the scoring Friday night 90 seconds into the game. The teams traded goals to a 2-2 tie at the first intermission. Wisconsin scored the only goal in the second and the first goal in the third to open up a two goal lead. Ohio State fought back scoring twice, including once with the goalie pulled in the final minute. Ohio State has been great with the extra attacker this year. Neither team could score in overtime, giving us a tie. Wisconsin won the skills competition 1-0 in three rounds to take the extra point. Ohio State stole a point from a Badgers team that has struggled to maintain multiple-goal leads.
Neither team scored until Grant Besse lit the lamp for Wisconsin with 7 left in the period. A flurry of goals gave the Badgers a 3-1 lead at the break. Ohio State cut the lead to 1 early in the period but Wisconsin answered. The Buckeyes would again cut it to one a minute later. Nick Schilkey tied the game with two and a half minutes left in the period. OSU scored their third straight goal nearly three minutes into the final period. Wisconsin fought back and tied it with a little under six minutes to go. John Wiitala scored the game winning goal for Ohio State with a little under three minutes left in the game. The Badger could not tie the game and blew another game in which they help multiple two-goal leads.
Ohio State was fortunate to leave this series with 4 points. The Badgers looked to be the better team, but the Buckeyes would not quit when down. The Badgers will likely finish last in the conference for the second straight year and their inability to protect leads is one of the biggest reasons why. Ohio State is now three points ahead of Michigan State. Ohio State can still finish in third, but would need to win out and have Penn State take 2 or less points. The Buckeyes showdown with Michigan State in two weekends will likely determine 4th place.
(4) North Dakota Fighting Hawks @ (13) Nebraska-Omaha Mavericks
UNO has really struggled at home in conference and is now in a bit of a free fall. The Mavericks had a good first period Friday night, taking a 1-0 lead into the intermission. North Dakota tied the game early into the second and then took the lead midway through. A third consecutive goal one minute into the third put this one out of reach. The Mavericks cut the lead to one early in the third, but an empty net goal gave the Fighting Hawks a 4-2 win.
Saturday was all North Dakota as the Fighting Hawks built a 3-0 lead late into the second. UNO scored its lone goal, late in the period but couldn't get any closer. North Dakota added another goal late in the third, giving them a 4-1 win and a road sweep.
The Fighting Hawks are 6 points ahead of St. Cloud and Denver going into the final weekend of NCHC play. UNO can finish no lower than sixth and can tie for fifth with a sweep of Denver next weekend and a sweep in the Duluth-Miami series. Either way, the Mavericks will start the NCHC playoffs with a road series. The Mavs have dropped to 13th in the Pairwise and are squarely on the bubble. UNO needs to win their playoffs series and probably one game in the NCHC tournament to feel safe. UNO fans will be rooting for chalk in the other conference tournaments to increase the number of At-Large spots available.
An overtime loss counts as a loss and no points are earned. If both teams are tied after the five minute OT period, the game goes down as a tie and both teams earn a point. A shootout follows a tie with the winner earning a second point. A shootout "win" counts as a tie, not a win in the standings and for NCAA Tournament seeding purposes. Total wins are used as the primary tie-breaker. If teams have the same number of wins, head to head record is used.
KRACH Ratings, KRACH Rank, Pairwise Rank
Update on 2/29/2016 @ 9 PM EST
There are 60 teams in college hockey. The pairwise is an approximation of the selection process for the NCAA tournament (click link for explanation). The top 16 teams are selected for the tourney. Conference tournament champions get auto-bids so teams rated near 16 can be displaced if a lower ranked team wins it's conference tournament.
Points, Elimination numbers, KRACH Projections, and Last Years Points
Change in expected conference points:
Points earned by team on the left are shown in the boxes. Now that we are almost halfway through the conference season, I will use the standings to determine the layout of the table instead of alphabetical order.
Green boxes mean that the team in the row is ahead of the team in the column. Red means the team in the column is ahead. Blue means the teams have split points. Once a season series is completed, the color will be darker, the points will be bold, and the box will have a thicker border. Column on the right shows the points gained by a team. Row on the bottom shows the points lost by a team.
KRACH Projection Review
Let's see how the projections went this week:
And how teams are doing compared to the KRACH expectations: