WCHA first-round playoffs (best of three) • Ridder Arena

Friday, 6:07 p.m. • Saturday, 4:07 p.m. • Sunday, if nec., 4:07 p.m.

Champs need to avoid upset

At stake: The winner advances to the four-team WCHA Final Face-Off, next weekend at Ridder Arena.

Minnesota (23-5-5): The Gophers sit No. 6 in the latest RPI rankings on USCHO.com, meaning they could be in jeopardy of missing the eight-team NCAA tournament if they get bounced in the first round of the conference tournament. Hit hard early this season by injuries, the two-time defending national champion Gophers have come on strong of late and are seeded second in the WCHA playoffs. They tied top-ranked Wisconsin twice last weekend — 1-1 and 0-0 — getting 68 saves from Sidney Peters. All-America senior Dani Cameranesi (18 goals, 19 games) was lost to a season-ending ankle injury in January, but the Gophers still have plenty of firepower. Forwards Kelly Pannek and Sarah Potomak were named two of the 10 Patty Kazmaier Award finalists on Thursday.

Bemidji State (11-18-3): The Beavers defeated the Gophers 2-0 in October and upset Minnesota in the conference semifinals two years ago. Seeded No. 7 in the WCHA playoffs, Bemidji State is only 7-67-7 against the Gophers all-time but remains dangerous with senior goaltender Brittni Mowat. She was a first-team All-America two years ago and an All-WCHA second-team selection last year. Sophomore Emily Bergland had four goals in last weekend’s split with Minnesota State Mankato, earning the league’s offensive player of the week honor.

JOE CHRISTENSEN