The Minnesota Gophers women’s hockey team begins it’s postseason run this weekend when they host St. Thomas in a Best-of-three first round WCHA Playoffs series. The winner will advance to the WCHA Final faceoff at Ridder Arena next weekend. Minnesota is the #2 seed in the playoffs while the Tommies are the #7 seed.
Minnesota and St. Thomas faces off last weekend in Mendota Heights at the Tommies home rink. It was not a great one for Minnesota. While the Gophers did take five of a possible six points in the series, Minnesota dropped a point to St. Thomas for the first time in program history. That point nearly became the difference between winning the WCHA Regular Season title and finishing in second place until Ohio State’s furious comeback in Madison against Wisconsin last Sunday rendered that moot. In either case the Gophers have not looked themselves down the stretch which includes just one regulation win in their last five games. If the Gophers want to go on a long playoff run, they need to get some things figured out and quickly.
St. Thomas is not a great offensive team. They averaged just 1.5 goals per game in the regular season and scored just five goals against Minnesota in their four game season series this year. But the Tommies can ride a hot goaltender. Sophomore Saskia Maurer was named to the WCHA Second Team this week after finishing the season with a 2.92 goals against average and a .917 save percentage. She had over 45 saves five times this season and made 53 in the overtime loss to the Gophers last Friday. Minnesota must find a way to solve her this weekend and not let these games be close in the third period when puck luck is up to chance.
Meanwhile the Gophers need to start figuring out a way to score that does not include their top two lines. Taylor Heise, Grace Zumwinkle, Abigail Boreen and Abbey Murphy have lit the lamp a combined 92 times this season—-while the rest of the Gopher roster has only 60 goals—a quarter of which have been scored by Peyton Hemp. Minnesota’s opponents have game planned the Gophers to try and shut down their top stars. If Minnesota wants to make a long postseason run, they are going to need to find a way to get some pucks in the net from their third and fourth lines.
Minnesota should have no real issue with the Tommies. With the exception of last weekend Minnesota has played UST eight previous times and never won by less than three goals. But the Gophers have no room for error. They currently sit in fourth place in the Pairwise rankings which would still mean a home quarterfinal for the NCAA Tournament for the Gophers. If the tournament began today they would be hosting Hockey East Champs Northeastern at Ridder Arena. But they are one bad loss away from dropping out of that #4 spot and ending up on the road for the NCAA Tournament. They have no real margin for error. Thus Minnesota needs to find a way to get their swagger back that they had earlier in the season and take it into the post season. If they play over the next three weeks like they have over the last three, it will be a quick exit for Minnesota from the post season.
Minnesota’s series against the Tommies is scheduled for a 6 PM Faceoff on Friday and then a 2 PM Faceoff Saturday and if needed on Sunday. All of the games will stream live on BTN+.