An analysis of the WCHA race could be pretty complex and hard to follow. Or simple.
I prefer to keep it simple.
Sometime early Sunday afternoon, all the pairings for the first round of the WCHA playoffs will be known. Alaska Anchorage plays at Denver on Sunday in the final regular-season game. Until then, it's chaos.
Five teams can still win an outright regular-season title or share it. Here is one way each can -- I'll just give one simple scenario in most cases, although there are multiple variations possible -- you don't want that, and I really know I don't want to spell out every one:
St. Cloud State, in first place with 35 points, wins first outright WCHA title in 23 seasons in league by:
* taking three of four points in Madison
* or sweeping at Wisconsin
SCSU wins a share of Cup by:
* earning two points in Madison.
The Gophers, tied for second place with 33 points, win outright Cup -- their second in a row -- by:
* sweeping Bemidji State if SCSU gets only one point or no points in Madison and if UND gets three or fewer points at Minnesota State Mankato
North Dakota, also with 33 points, wins outright Cup by:
* sweeping Mavericks if SCSU gets only one point or no points in Madison and if the Gophers get three or fewer points at Bemidji State
Minnesota State, tied for fourth with 31 points, wins share of Cup by:
* sweeping North Dakota if Badgers sweep SCSU and Gophers get two points or fewer at Bemidji State
Wisconsin, the other team tied for fourth with 31 points, wins share of Cup by:
* sweeping St. Cloud State if Gophers and UND both earn two points or fewer in their series
TO SWEEP OR NOT TO SWEEP
The Gophers have earned at least two points every WCHA series so far. But what they haven't done, except once, is sweep anyone. They will probably have to do that this weekend at Bemidji State if they want at least a share of the MacNaughton Cup.
The Beavers have five points in their last three conference series: They had one tie with Wisconsin and North Dakota and, in between had a win and tie against UMD. BSU has been swept four times in 13 conference series.
"It's not an easy place to play," Gophers coach Don Lucia said, referring to the Sanford Center in Bemidji.
Minnesota ended the regular season there two years ago. "We tied the first night, and won the second night in overtime," Lucia said on his radio show this week. "That is what I expect this weekend. We have to be smart with the puck, we have to be patient .
"They've got 10 seniors [the Gophers have one]. They are an older, veteran team. ... Playing Bemidji, if would really help a lot if we could score first."
BSU is in 11th place in the WCHA with a 5-14-7 record, but it could be a lot better with a few goals at the right time. Five of those 14 losses were by one goal, including two to Michigan Tech in overtime.
Lucia said last weekend the Beavers trailed for only 17 minutes during a series at UND. "They are a good counter-attacking teamn, good on specialty teams. They want to win a game 2-1, 3-2," he said.
* The Beavers have a smaller, NHL-size rink, so the Gophers practiced at Ridder Arena several times this week, "so when we step on the rink [in Bemidji], it doesn't seem so small," Lucia said.
* Lucia on senior defenseman Seth Helgeson: "Seth has had a very good career, and he's been a good student, and out there doing community service. ... He can make a block. ... He is not a flashy guy, [but] he plays within his limitations ... You have to have players like Seth Helgeson."
My WCHA picks -- and Joe the Lawyer's -- on Friday morning. I edged him by one-half game last weekend, but this weekend is much more crucial.