Bemidji State might be the lowest seed in the women's WCHA playoffs, but it's also the team that gave the undefeated Gophers their biggest scare of the season.
So when the teams open their best-of-three playoff series Friday night at Ridder Arena, the Gophers know any letup could end their 42-game winning streak, which dates to Feb. 18, 2012.
The Gophers defeated Bemidji State 8-0 two weeks ago, only to find themselves pushed to overtime the next night, when Beavers goaltender Jessica Havel made a career-high 41 saves. Gophers senior Mira Jalosuo scored a power-play goal to win it 3-2.
"I think that was good for us, especially with them coming here this weekend," Gophers junior Amanda Kessel said. "We know we can't take them lightly."
The winner of this series will join three other teams at the WCHA's Final Faceoff next weekend at Ridder Arena. The top-seeded Gophers (34-0) also are expected to host an NCAA quarterfinal March 16, and the Frozen Four will be at Ridder from March 22-24.
Playing before their home fans, they have a chance to make this one of the most memorable months in program history. The winning streak might be the main storyline, but players insist the most important goal is winning a second consecutive national championship.
"I don't think we think about the streak, to be honest," said senior captain Megan Bozek. "It's exciting, but the regular season's over. And now, it's kind of one and done for us.
"If we don't come prepared, anyone on any given day can beat us."
On Thursday, the Gophers learned that they have four of the 10 finalists for this season's Patty Kazmaier Award, given annually to the nation's top player: Bozek, Kessel, Hannah Brandt and Noora Raty.
Kessel (93 points) and Brandt (73 points) rank first and second in the nation in scoring. Raty, a senior goaltender, ranks second in the nation with a 0.99 goals against average. And Bozek has 136 career points, the most in school history for a defenseman.
Coach Brad Frost rested Raty last Friday at St. Cloud State, and freshman backup Amanda Leveille notched her third shutout of the season.
"We keep telling you guys [in the media] that the streak doesn't matter to us," Frost said. "If the streak was really our No. 1 concern, we'd probably go with our No. 1 goalie in that game, but we were confident in Amanda."
Frost also rested Kessel for both games last weekend, as she'd been playing through some nagging injuries. She's expected back on the ice Friday.
Asked if another weekend off would benefit Kessel, Frost said, "Probably, but we're in the playoffs now, so time is of the essence at this point."