Maybe Minnesota figured that with a #1 NCAA tourney seed already locked up, they didn't need their best effort Friday night against Colorado College. Or much effort at all. The #1 team in the country sure didn't look like it in a lackluster, listless effort where they put 35 shots on goal, yet managed few quality chances and couldn't beat Tigers goalie Joe Howe. At the other end, CC registered only 20 shots but procured more scoring chances than Minnesota, and made theirs count with second period goals from Rylan Schwartz and Charlie Taft, which is all they would need for a 2-0 win.
CC controlled the play most of the night, using the smaller NHL-sized rink at The X to their advantage by playing the dreaded neutral zone trap (at least for hockey fans who like watching hockey) to perfection by all but eliminating Minnesota's ability to carry the puck through the neutral zone. The smaller surface wasn't going to help a very skilled and speedy Gopher squad to begin with, but a team that prefers to score on the rush and carry the puck into the zone more often than play dump-and-chase hockey had few opportunities to do what they wanted. And on this night, at least for the first two periods, it DID seem to be for a lack of effort. For whatever reason, Minnesota just weren't sharp, got out-skated to loose pucks all night, and missed more passes tonight than they probably have all season.
It just wasn't the Gophers night, as their vaunted power play went 0-3, including a five minute man-advantage in the third where The U managed just one lousy shot. Killing that off pretty much sealed the deal for CC, which might as well stand for "Cinderella Colorado" as the Tigers suddenly cannot stop winning. The 8 seed in the WCHA playoffs, they dropped their opening playoff game last Friday night to Denver, then have won four straight overly heavily favored opponents, with two wins to sweep their arch rivals DU, then North Dakota last night, and now the Gophers tonight. One more, and they're into the NCAA tournament.
It's been that kind of Last Final Five that Means Something, as underdogs have been running amok over the higher seeds with Wisconsin beating top seed SCSU earlier, setting up a who-woulda-thunk-it "Final Final Five Final" of Wisconsin against CC. Both teams have been playing great hockey for the past week and it should make for an entertaining final, one that the College Hockey News' Pairwise Blog calls a "Winner Takes All" final game where the winner grabs an automatic berth to the NCAA's while the loser's season will end. But they won't be the only WCHA team who could see their tourney hopes dashed tomorrow night, as, would you believe, that St Cloud is now very much in danger of being left out? Despite winning a share of the MacNaughton, SCSU started the playoffs 10th in the Pairwise standings, and with the loss to Wisconsin tonight now sit squarely on the bubble at 13th.
The problems for JBSU isn't just the upsets that have happened in the WCHA, but also in the ECAC as the top-ranked team in the Pairwise in Quinnipiac and 8th ranked Yale both lost, meaning Union (14th) or Brown (20th) are going to take another tourney spot away. BC was knocked out of the Hockey East playoffs by #3 in the Pairwise Mass-Lowell, who played #18 BU in the final. The CCHA has upset potential if Michigan keeps winning, and let's not forget that Atlantic Hockey's auto bid is going to either Canisius or Mercyhurst, neither of whom are above the TUC line, meaning they're ranked outside of the top 31.
While St Cloud sweats out the rest of the weekend, Minnesota knows they have a #1 seed locked up, and can wait to see who they'll play next week. They can't play any worse than they did tonight, so let's hope another week to prepare will have them playing like the #1 team in the country we know they can be instead of whatever they were tonight.