The Gophers are playing for more than just a spot in the Big Ten tournament championship game in Friday afternoon's semifinal against Ohio State. Knowing that they likely need to win to secure a spot in the NCAA tournament, the players are treating the semifinal like a championship game.
However, whether the Gophers win or lose, there are many different scenarios that could play out this weekend with results from six college hockey conference tournaments affecting their standing in the PairWise rankings.
They are currently 13th in the poll, which is based off a formula that the NCAA tournament committee uses to select the 16-team field, and sitting uncomfortably on the bubble. If they lose, they become a long shot for the tournament. If they win Friday, it could be enough to claim an at-large bid even if they lost in the Big Ten championship game.
The players can't help but pay a little bit of attention to the possible outcomes swirling around the program.
"I know some guys see some stuff on social media about the [USCHO PairWise] predictor and where things can go," Gophers junior defenseman and Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year Mike Reilly said. "A lot can change. ... It's almost hard not to look at that, in a way. But We're just focused on trying to win two games here and worry about the Friday game first. Not look too much into that kind of thing where it becomes a distraction and becomes kind of a numbers game.
"So we don't look too much into that, but it pops up a little bit."
Here are some scenarios the Gophers should be worried about even if they win Friday afternoon:
If top-seed Quinnipiac loses its ECAC semifinal game against Harvard, it opens the door for Harvard and St.Lawrence to potentially steal what would have been the Gophers' spot in the tournament.
If Boston University loses in the Hockey East semifinals to New Hampshire, Massachusetts-Lowell or Vermont could push the Gophers outside of the bubble.
If St. Cloud State wins a game in this weekend's NCHC Frozen Faceoff at Target Center, the Huskies could steal the Gophers' spot.
Finally, if Bowling Green can win one game in the WCHA Final Five in St. Paul, the Gophers could be done.
The Gophers will have to overcome recent history to secure its spot in the NCAA tournament. They haven't won a conference tournament since 2007, and the current senior class hasn't won a single conference playoff game. Read more about this negative trend and check out a recap of the last eight conference tournament performances. Also, watch video of coach Don Lucia, senior Seth Ambroz and junior Mike Reilly previewing the Big Ten tournament.
• Big Ten semifinal preview: No. 1 Gophers vs. No. 5 Ohio State
3:30 P.M. VS. OHIO STATE • DETROIT • TV/radio/live stream: BTN, 1500-AM, BTN2Go
Inside the matchup: The Gophers won the season series 3-1 and arguably with ease outscoring the Buckeyes 14-6 and giving up no more than two goals a game in the first three meetings. Then Ohio State turned the tables on the Gophers by closing out the season series with a 5-2 victory just two weeks ago. The Buckeyes made the Gophers look bad on the NHL-sized ice surface in Columbus, and they’ll meet again on another small sheet of ice at Joe Louis Arena in Detroit. The two teams met in the same game a year ago and Ohio State upset the top seed, 3-1. The Gophers can’t afford another letdown if they hope to keep their NCAA tournament hopes alive.
For more on the Big Ten tournament, read the full series preview.
• Gophers' Friday lines
Forwards (left wing, center, right wing)
Leon Bristedt, Kyle Rau, Hudson Fasching
Sam Warning, Travis Boyd, Seth Ambroz
Taylor Cammarata, Justin Kloos, Vinni Lettieri
A.J. Michaelson, Christian Isackson, Jack Glover
Defensemen (left, right)
Brady Skjei, Ryan Collins
Mike Reilly, Jake Bischoff
Ben Marshall, Michael Brodzinski
Adam Wilcox, Nick Lehr
• College hockey tournaments take over Twin Cities: The NCHC showcases its highly ranked talent in the Frozen Faceoff at Target Center: NCHC tournament preview. The WCHA Final Five returns to Xcel Energy Center with Minnesota State as the favorite: WCHA tournament preview.