Minnesota: 16-12-6 Overall, 13-10-5 WCHA (fifth seed)
Alaska-Anchorage: 14-17-3 Overall, 12-14-2 WCHA (eighth seed)
Minnesota: 3 points against Bemidji State (Tied 3-3 Friday night, Won 3-2 Saturday night in OT)
Alaska-Anchorage: Swept Minnesota State Mankato (4-0 Friday night, 4-1 Saturday night)
After missing the Final Five for the second time in school history last season, the University of Minnesota Golden Gophers look to get through the visiting University of Alaska-Anchorage Seawolves in a best-of-three series and return to the Xcel Energy Center. Sitting tied for 18th in the PairWise rankings, the Gophers need to win twice this weekend and at least one game next weekend (possibly more) to make the NCAA Tournament as an at-large bid, but for now the task at hand is on the Seawolves.
Despite finishing the season in eighth place, Alaska-Anchorage is still a viable threat to Minnesota as both teams are playing their best hockey at the right time. The Gophers are currently riding a seven game unbeaten streak (5-0-2) while the Seawolves have gone 7-4-0 in their last eleven and have won their last three games. They have had success against Minnesota this season, beating the Gophers 1-0 at Mariucci Arena after losing 5-1 the night before. That game sparked freshman goalie Chris Kaamal as he has gone 6-1-0 with a remarkable .940 save percentage since that victory.
For the Gophers to win, they need to continue to score and play good defense. In their unbeaten streak, Minnesota has outscored opponents 31-17 and not allowed an opponent to score more than three goals. The Seawolves are a distant tenth in the WCHA in goals scored and eleventh in powerplay percentage, which both help Minnesota out. At the same time, hot goaltending is key this time of the year and the Gophers are facing a team which gave up one goal last weekend. Minnesota has a hot goalie of their own in Kent Patterson (who led the league with a .926 save percentage) so if they can get an early goal, it will put the Seawolves on their toes.
The series' X factor is going to be the depth of the Gophers as according to former coach Doug Woog, Aaron Ness, Taylor Matson and Erik Haula are all questionable for this weekend after suffering injuries in Bemidji. Minnesota still has the talent to win, as shown by their 3-2 overtime victory last Saturday, but for a team on the outside of the NCAA tournament every player is important.
This should be an outstanding series for the Gophers as they look to continue their season and work their way up the PairWise rankings. All three games this weekend are at 7:00 PM Central and air on Fox Sports North. Friday and Sunday's games (if necessary) will air on alternate channels which are featured on the front page.