The Gophers might have played their worst game of the season on Friday. They were shut out for the first time, losing 2-0 to visiting Denver.

It was a costly loss. The defending MacNaughton Cup champions are now four points behind St. Cloud State -- which won 5-3 over Michigan Tech at the National Hockey Center -- with three games left.

Afterward, U coach Don Lucia said he had some harsh words for his players after the game. It's about time. The Gophers  have been cruising for a while, going 4-4-2 in their last 10 games. They have won one WCHA game in least every conference series coming into this weekend, but swept only once.

Hard to explain that. This was a team loaded with experience, picked to win the conference. But if they lose to DU again on Saturday, they might have to start worrying about getting home ice for the playoffs.

As of right now, the first-round pairings would be:

Alaska Anchorage at St. Cloud State

Bemidji State at North Dakota

Michigan Tech at Gophers

UMD at Nebraska Omaha

Colorado College at Minnesota State

Wisconin at Denver

There's a caveat here, not totally sure how the present tie between Minnesota State, Denver and Wisconsin would be broken, since each won  the firat tie-breaker, head to head competiton, over one of the other. So went to second tiebreaker, most wins in conference. And there the Mavericks have 14, Denver 12 and Wisconsin 11.

* WCHA now has four teams in the top nine in the PairWise ratings: Gophers are No. 2, Notre Dame is tied for fifth, St. Cloud is tied for seventh and Denver is ninth. Minnesota State is No. 13, getting close to the NCAA bubble.

* Three stars of Friday's 2-0 loss by the Gophers to the Pioneers were Shawn Ostrow who scored game-winner for DU 19 seconds into third period, Pios goalie Juho Olkinuora who made 33 saves and Gophers goalie Adam Wilcox who stopped 33 shots as well. Second goal of game was an empty-netter.