There is nothing like elimination playoff hockey.
On Sunday, there were five games across college hockey that would be the end of one of the participants’ seasons. Add in three women’s conference tournament finals, and it makes for a loaded slate of college hockey action.
In those women’s finals, Clarkson defeated Cornell 1-0 and took the ECAC title in the process, Wisconsin defeated Minnesota Duluth 4-1 to win the WCHA, and Boston College took all seven shots in the overtime period against Northeastern to take Hockey East 2-1. In the first round of the NCAAs, Wisconsin hosts Robert Morris, St. Lawrence travels to Boston College, Clarkson hosts Cornell, and Minnesota-Duluth hosts two time defending national champions Minnesota.
Some thoughts on the rest of the weekend’s action:
1. NoDak Back on Track
Defending national champions North Dakota have been on a rough stretch in the late parts of the season, falling from comfortable position to the NCAA Tournament bubble. The Fighting Hawks needed a strong finish to their regular season, and likely a run in the NCHC Tournament, to make it into the field of 16.
With two convincing wins over Miami, North Dakota has taken care of the first obstacle. On Friday night it was all about special teams for the Hawks, as North Dakota scored on the power play in the first, scored in a 4-on-4 for their second goal, and got the game-winner on a shorthanded goal by Trevor Olson to take a 3-2 win on the road. On Saturday night, Tucker Poolman had two goals and two assists as North Dakota cruised to a 5-2 victory.
At the moment, North Dakota is tied for 11th in the PairWise rankings, generally a good benchmark for possible NCAA selection. This sets up a weekend playoff series in Grand Forks with St. Cloud State, who also finds themselves on that bubble. If the Fighting Hawks advance past the Huskies this weekend, it will be difficult to deny the defending champs another shot.
2. Wild Big Ten Weekend
The Big Ten is the only conference that has yet to finish their regular season, and the regular-season title is still technically up for grabs as Minnesota holds a three point lead over Wisconsin coming into the last weekend and their final series with Michigan State.
The door was left open when Minnesota dropped Friday night’s game at Michigan, with the Wolverines erasing a two-goal deficit in the second period and pulling away in the third. Five different Michigan players lit the lamp on Friday night at Yost Ice Arena. Saturday went much more according to ranking, as Minnesota never trailed in a 4-1 win.
The Gophers didn’t lose any ground over the weekend, though, as Wisconsin split a wild series at Penn State. On Friday night, the Badgers won 7-4 behind three points each for Will Johnson, Corbin McGuire, and Ryan Wagner. On Saturday night, PSU goalie Peyton Jones was at his absolute best, saving all 36 shots he saw as the Nittany Lions earned the split with a 6-0 drubbing of Wisconsin.
Ohio State, no longer in the conference race but still needing to secure position for an NCAA bid, dropped a stunner at home on Friday night to Michigan State. The Spartans jumped out to a four goal lead after one period, and then held on as Ohio State tried to mount a comeback only to fall just short, with Michigan State winning 5-4. On Saturday night both teams traded goals through the first two periods, coming into the third tied at 3, but the third period belonged to Ohio State as the Buckeyes scored twice to get revenge over Michigan State 5-3.
This sets up a final regular-season weekend for the Big Ten that sees Ohio State take on Wisconsin with both teams unsure about their tournament selection status. As it stands, the Badgers are tied for 13th in the PairWise (meaning they’d be in position to just barely scrape in) while Ohio State is 17th. A sweep for either team would have a dramatic impact on those rankings. Meanwhile, Minnesota needs to take points from Michigan State in their last two home games to wrap up the regular season title, and Penn State finishes up the regular season at Michigan.
3. Setting up a Hockey East frenzy
Speaking of teams who need to have a strong postseason to ensure their NCAA Tournament status, Hockey East has two enormous matchups to that end. Vermont, currently 15th in the PairWise, travels to reeling Boston College to take on the Eagles in a weekend that will all but eliminate the loser from NCAA contention. Vermont got there after dismantling Maine in the opening round of the Hockey East Tournament last weekend, winning 5-0 on Friday and 5-1 on Saturday for the most convincing sweep of the weekend in HEA.
Providence will play Notre Dame after they swiftly dispatched UMass 3-0 and 5-1 last weekend. Both teams are on the right side of the theoretical line right now, but after this weekend that status will be much shakier for one of the two teams. Also keep in mind this weekend is Hockey East’s last trip to South Bend. If the Irish advance to the Hockey East semis, they’ll play at the TD Garden, and their next home game after this weekend will come as a member of the Big Ten.
There will be a Boston grudge match as well, as Boston University will host Northeastern after Northeastern’s Stevens brothers combined for seven points on the weekend and the Huskies swept Connecticut 3-1 and 6-2 at Matthews Arena. The matchup should be action-packed, as BU has a fantastic roster of young NHL-caliber talent going up against a Northeastern team that is relatively healthy and has two of the most dangerous lines in the entire country.
The upset of the weekend came as the red hot Merrimack Warriors were cut down in three games by a New Hampshire team that might not be deep but is led by one of the finest players in the nation. After Merrimack won 4-0 in the series opener at Lawler Arena behind 25 saves from Collin Delia, it looked as though the Warriors were bound for a rematch with a BU team they swept earlier in the year. However, New Hampshire reversed the score on Saturday night, led by 44 saves from Daniel Tirone including 17 in the third. On Sunday night, Tyler Kelleher had a goal and an assist as five Wildcats scored in a 5-2 win to secure the upset. They’ll take on UMass Lowell this coming weekend.
Tim Williams is a freelance writer based in Boston. Follow him on Twitter at @TimWritesSports.