It's that time of year again: playoffs.
Below, please find a primer outlining the six series being played this weekend, with the winners earning the right to play in St. Paul for the Final Five title next weekend.
#1 Minnesota vs. #12 Alaska-Anchorage
The Gophers won the league, and along with it the right to face the Alaska-Anchorage Seawolves in the first round of the playoffs. Alaska-Anchorage only won five league games all season, and boasted an abysmal 60 goals in 28 league games. Minnesota, on the other hand, scored 88 goals in league play this season (fourth in the conference) while giving up only 57 (the best mark in the league by a whopping 16 goals). Anchorage will try to win by limiting the Gopher offense, while Minnesota must be able to break through the neutral zone trap and score some goals. Prediction: Minnesota sweep, but the games are closer than they should be.
#2 Minnesota-Duluth vs. #11 Minnesota State - Mankato
The Bulldogs host an improving Minnesota State team in the first round. UMD has struggled down the stretch, but should have the firepower to oust Mankato and end their season. Prediction: UMD sweep, but one of the games could be close or go to overtime.
#3 Denver vs. #10 Wisconsin
Denver catches something of a tough break in drawing Wisconsin, as the Badgers are one of the best #10 seeds in the league that I can remember. The Pioneers will be playing on home ice, which could play a large factor as Wisconsin is not a great road team so far this season. Prediction: I could see Wisconsin maybe winning one game, but Denver has too much firepower to go down in the first round, especially with an NCAA Tournament berth on the line.
#4 North Dakota vs. #9 Bemidji State
North Dakota draws rival Bemidji State for this weekend's first round matchup. I think Bemidji could be a better team than people give them credit for, but North Dakota has been playing good hockey the past few weekends and I just don't see them losing at home. Prediction: North Dakota sweep. Unfortunately, we'll be seeing a lot of green North Dakota jerseys at the Final Five this season.
#5 Colorado College vs. #8 Michigan Tech
Tech has struggled down the stretch, and is coming off of being swept on the road by this same Colorado College team. After being picked near the top of the league by many (and at the top of the league by me), Colorado College had to do some work in the back half of their schedule to secure home ice in the first round. Prediction: Colorado College is just too good for Michigan Tech. They may take three games to do it, but CC will be in St. Paul next weekend.
#6 St. Cloud State vs. #7 Nebraska-Omaha
Nebraska-Omaha limped into the playoffs with four straight losses at home. Those losses WERE against Minnesota and Denver, but the team which once was nearly a lock for home ice has to travel to St. Cloud to face the surprisingly surging Huskies. St. Cloud has had to deal with a rash of injuries and defections this season, but it appears to only have made them stronger as they are one of the hotter teams heading into the playoff push. Prediction: Nebraska-Omaha wins a hard-fought away series in three games. They have too much top-end talent to go down without a fight.