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Chris Peters | | February 23, 2018

Regular-season championships, tournament bubble battles highlight big weekend

College Hockey | Top Five Plays

This could be a very big weekend for teams on the bubble for the NCAA tournament. Key matchups across the country may have a big impact on the Pairwise rankings heading into the postseason. Plenty of teams are still in the hunt, but this week’s games to watch focuses more on the teams currently on the outside looking in.

For most of the country, this is the final weekend of the regular season. Given the anything-can-happen nature of the conference tournament, this is one of the last big weekends for teams vying for at-large bids to strengthen their record.

This is also going to be a championship weekend in some conferences. Regular-season titles remain on the line in the last weekend of the season in every conference but the Big Ten, where Notre Dame has clinched. The NCHC is the only conference that still has two weekends left in its regular season.

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Boston College just needs to collect two points this weekend to win Hockey East over Providence, the same goes for Minnesota State over Northern Michigan in the WCHA.

Meanwhile, Atlantic Hockey’s regular-season title is up for grabs with both Mercyhurst and Canisius in the mix to grab the top spot with Mercyhurst holding a two-point advantage heading into the final weekend of the regular season. The Lakers play at RIT, while the Golden Griffins have a home-and-home series with Niagara. The standings in that conference from second to ninth place remain very much in flux, so every conference game pretty much matters from a conference tournament standpoint.

Over in the ECAC, Cornell will look to hold on to the top spot, needing just one point to clinch the Cleary Cup. If they fall to Rensselaer on Friday and Union beats Colgate, that could set up a de facto Cleary Cup championship game on Saturday between the Big Red and second-place Dutchmen. A lot has to happen for that to be the case, but it’s interesting how close things have gotten in ECAC of late.

So there is no shortage of intrigue heading into this weekend. Here’s a look at some of the games this weekend that have big implications for national tournament bubble teams and one matchup between NCHC titans that could mean a lot for both the conference and national tournament picture.

Friday-Saturday series

Maine at Boston College, 7 p.m. ET (ESPN3)
Maine at Boston College, 7 p.m. ET (ESPN3)

Maine is on the edge of the tournament picture and looking more like they’d need a dream run through the Hockey East tournament to earn an auto-bid. Boston College, however, is right in the mix to potentially jump into an auto-bid spot. It’s kind of amazing they’re in the position they’re in, as they are currently leading in the Hockey East standings by two points with a game in hand on second-place Providence. The Eagles can clinch the conference’s regular-season title as early as Friday with a good showing against the Black Bears, while Providence closes out regular-season play Saturday against UMass. Two points in any fashion this weekend for the Eagles secures their title. A sweep, however, improves their national tournament stock which has suffered due to a poor non-conference record.

Minnesota at Penn State, 6:30 p.m. ET (Big Ten Network)
Minnesota at Penn State, 7 p.m. ET (Big Ten Network)

Penn State would love nothing more than to be in Allentown, Pa., where they will be hosting the Midwest Regional. They are going to need a big weekend on home ice against a surging Minnesota squad to help their cause. The two clubs split their first conference meeting of the season way back in October. The Nittany Lions are currently ranked 17th in the Pairwise, which can at least give them a little optimism. Depending on what happens with some of the other bubble teams, a stumble against the Gophers could put Penn State in a situation where they’ll have to win the conference tournament. The last month has been a real struggle for the defending Big Ten tournament champs with just one win in their last nine games.

Minnesota Duluth at Western Michigan, 7:05 p.m. ET
Minnesota Duluth at Western Michigan, 7:05 p.m. ET

This series is a big one for both teams with just two weeks left in the NCHC regular season. Minnesota Duluth is starting to look like a safer bet to make the national tournament these days, but Western Michigan is right on the bubble. According to the Pairwise Probability Matrix from College Hockey News, the Broncos’ tournament hopes sit at about 32 percent. Having lost top forward Wade Allison to a season-ending injury, WMU has been stumbling through the second half of the season. They can stop the bleeding a bit with a big series on home ice and breathe some life into their chances. This series also has some implications for seeding in the NCHC tournament as the Broncos sit just two points back of the Bulldogs.

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Michigan Tech at Northern Michigan, 7:07 p.m. ET
Northern Michigan at Michigan Tech, 7:07 p.m. ET

How about the job rookie head coach Grant Potulny has done at Northern Michigan? The Wildcats were 13-22-4 overall last season and 20-11-3 so far this year. That includes an 18-6-2 record in the WCHA, which is good for second. On the last weekend of the regular season, they’re still alive for the McNaughton Cup, though only by a slim margin. Minnesota State needs just two points on the weekend to clinch. Either way, Northern Michigan getting to this point is a huge accomplishment. They’re also currently 15th in the Pairwise. Ideally they’d want to move up before the WCHA tournament starts, and could with a good showing against rival Michigan Tech this weekend. Definitely keep an eye on the WCHA this weekend.

Denver at St. Cloud State, 8:37 p.m. (CBS Sports Network)
Denver at St. Cloud State, 8:07 p.m. (Fox Sports North+)

To say this is a huge series is putting it mildly. The two top teams in arguably the toughest conference in the country are going head-to-head with a lot on the line. St. Cloud State currently has a five-point lead in the conference standings. The NCHC offers three points for regulation wins, so things could flip pretty quickly. St. Coud has the benefit of being at home for this one as they were swept on the road the last time these two teams met this season. Meanwhile, it appears that Denver’s Troy Terry and St. Cloud State’s Will Borgen are back from the Olympics and should play in this crucial weekend series.

Meanwhile, both the Huskies and Pioneers are in the hunt for being the No. 1 overall seed heading into the conference tournament. St. Cloud is in that position now, but Denver could really flip the script on them if they found a way to sweep the season series. So, yeah, this is a big one.

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