Friday, March 14, 2008


To me, there are a bunch of key questions heading into the playoff series that start tonight.

1. Can Minnesota play two (or three) games like they played last Friday against UMD? UMD coaches and players were nearly unanimous in their distaste for their performance in Minnesota's 4-1 win. But let's give some credit to the team that got the two points. Minnesota was very good in this game. They were opportunistic, got to the net, and took great care of freshman goaltender Alex Kangas. They didn't do all those things nearly as well on Saturday, while UMD was much stronger in a 3-2 win to earn a series split.

For Minnesota to beat Minnesota State this weekend, they have to play more like they did in the Friday game and less like they did in the first two periods on Saturday. It'll be tough in Mankato, where there should be plenty of Gopher fans but still quite a buzz in the Alltel Center.

2. Is Jase Weslosky capable of outplaying Shane Connelly in a playoff series...or vice versa? Two goalies with huge shoes to fill (Weslosky replacing Bobby Goepfert, Connelly replacing Brian Elliott) face in St. Cloud. The Huskies are a virtual lock for the NCAA Tournament, but unless they improve their standing, they'll be a likely underdog in the opening round. You know SCSU's NCAA history by now.

Wisconsin needs to win this series to get in the NCAAs in all likelihood, as they are firmly on the bubble right now. With Boston University, UMD, and Notre Dame - among others - knocking on the door, Bucky better find a way to win two games this weekend, or the Kohl Center may end up being mighty empty in two weeks.

3. Will the real Peter Mannino please stand up? If the relatively inconsistent and uncharacteristically shaky Mannino we've seen in the second half shows up at Magness Arena this weekend, Denver will get bounced from the WCHA playoffs before the Final Five for a third straight year. Mannino's got plenty of big-game experience, but he hasn't won a playoff start since beating UMD in Game Two of their 2006 series, and he followed that up by allowing four second-period goals and getting yanked in Game Three as UMD finished the upset. In DU's last 15 games, Mannino started 14 times, won just four games, and was pulled from three starts. An uneven Mannino means Denver has virtually no shot.

4. Can UMD score enough to win? Even with Mannino serving as the biggest question mark in this series, UMD's offense was in absentia for most of February and the first part of March. The Bulldogs haven't scored more than three against a WCHA opponent since January 12, and they haven't scored more than three in regulation against a WCHA opponent since Thanksgiving weekend.

Now, three appears to be the magic number against Denver, as they are just 2-12 this season when allowing more than two goals. But I have a feeling it's going to take more than that at least once this weekend. I also have a feeling UMD will make it happen. Then again, I also had a feeling the Wild would hold on to a two-goal lead for once last night, and you all saw how that turned out.

5. Will Michael-Lee Teslak be good enough to carry Michigan Tech back to St. Paul? He's going to have to be really good. He knows he won't get much offensive support, especially against North Dakota. The Sioux are likely missing T.J. Oshie from how things sound right now, but it probably won't matter. Tech has played the rotation game with Teslak and Rob Nolan this year, even though Teslak is better. Why? Because Teslak has also been inconsistent. He's gotten pulled a few times, and he hasn't looked as sharp in the second half. I think part of it is the mentality that he has to shut everyone out for Tech to have a chance. When a goalie presses, it can often be ugly.

However, there's little doubt that Teslak has the talent to lead MTU to a series win. If he's on his game and can get an early goal on Friday to settle everyone down in front of him, it could get interesting in Grand Forks this weekend.

Colorado College sweeps Alaska-Anchorage
North Dakota sweeps Michigan Tech
Minnesota State in three over Minnesota
St. Cloud State sweeps Wisconsin

And I'm not touching UMD's series with a ten-foot pole. Sorry. I'm calling it, I've been here since Wednesday, and I still don't know what's going to happen. Stay tuned.

If you're a UMD fan, root for the following:
  • A UMD series win. A sweep would be perfect, but a three-game win is okay.
  • SCSU beats Wisconsin. A sweep and a UMD sweep likely would swing the UMD/UW PWR comparison for UMD.
  • Minnesota State beats Minnesota.
  • UMass-Lowell does enough against Boston University to re-crack the top 25 of the RPI and become a TUC again.
Not all of these things need to happen. The only one that absolutely has to happen is a UMD series win.

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