2014 Frozen Four: Minnesota will win a national championship if.....

Minnesota head coach Don Lucia (far left) speaking with goalie Adam Wilcox during his team's 4-0 win over St. Cloud State (D Mike Reilly far right) - Matt Christians

A blue line and goaltender that have shut down several high scoring offenses must do so again this weekend.

Having options is a good strategy to win a championship. One dimensional teams, even those are great at that one thing, are easier to shut down or contain in a single elimination tournament. Keeping teams on their toes does have an advantage.

The University of Minnesota team heading into the 2014 Frozen Four has options.

It starts up front for Minnesota. Head coach Don Lucia's quest for a third NCAA national title - the school's sixth - is bolstered by an offense that features three scoring lines. At several points throughout the season, the top-overall seed Gophers have relied on several different players and combinations to score.

When one line is clicking, as the second line of Nate Condon (Colorado Avalanche), Justin Kloos and Taylor Cammarata (New York Islanders) did last weekend, it pays dividends for the others.

Few teams have the man-power able to shut down all three lines. If a game stays even-strength for long stretches, as the Gophers would prefer, the task of keeping with Minnesota's speed and puck possession up and down the lineup gets extremely difficult. Several times one goal leads to two or three in a quick span (see: the final 3 minutes of the first period against Robert Morris).

Other times it also lets Lucia, who will have last change in both games, match up against other teams.

Normally that has been the third line of Tom Serratore, Travis Boyd (Washington Capitals) and Seth Ambroz (Columbus Blue Jackets), which has proven itself to be resourceful.

Oddly this year feels like a reverse of the team's last trip to the Frozen Four in 2012. That Gopher team entered Tampa with a talented power play and top-six, going up against Boston College's tenacious top-nine and falling 6-1 to the eventual 2012 national champions.

This time around, Minnesota is the more balanced team. No player is averaging more than a point per game nor is anyone in the top-45 of points nationally. Junior co-captain Kyle Rau (Florida Panthers) leads the Gophers in points (37) with what currently is a career-low and less than half of BC's Johnny Gaudreau (Calgary Flames), who leads the nation with 77 (35 G-42 A) on the country's most potent line. Linemate Kevin Hayes (Chicago Blackhawks) is second in the country with 63 points. North Dakota and Union, second in the country behind BC averaging 3.7 goals per game and ahead of Minnesota's 3.51 goals per game average, are not slouches offensively either.

But this is an article looking at how Minnesota would win a national championship.  You clicked on it. No one forced you to click and the title doesn't lie. Don't send hate mail.

Although the Gophers have several weapons offensively, as seen with 9 players scoring more than 23 points (more than any other Frozen Four team), that isn't the only option.

Minnesota will win a championship if its defense plays like it did last weekend.

Offense may get all the headlines yet the Gopher blue line and goaltending have both been a steady presence this season. Minnesota has allowed 0 or 1 goal 15 times this year. It is also one of two teams to successfully hold Gaudreau without a point in a game, doing so October 27th in a 6-1 win.

Sophomore Adam Wilcox (Tampa Bay Lightning) was named the inaugural Big Ten Player and Goalie of the Year for a reason. Wilcox, one of the five nominees for the Mike Richter Award given to the best goaltender in college hockey, is second in the nation in save percentage (.934%) and third in goals against average. The South St. Paul, MN native also had his fourth shutout of the year against St. Cloud State.

What makes him special (besides an insane Rubik's Cube ability) is Wilcox's ability to be in position and make difficult saves look easy. He also isn't afraid to play the puck, which works well with the speedy Gophers.

Still, it isn't all on Wilcox. Minnesota's puck moving blue line was playing as well as it has this season in the two regional wins. St. Cloud State, the NCHC regular season champions and averaging 3.58 goals per game, were held at bay on the outside a night after defeating Notre Dame in overtime. The Huskies only attempted 6 shots on goal total in the slot. None were in the first period.

Although Wilcox did have to make 1 or 2 tough saves to preserve the shutout, he wasn't tested at all compared to the previous Gophers-Huskies game when Minnesota was out-shot 39-29.

That's a testament to Minnesota's defense. (Credit also should go to assistant head coach Mike Guentzel.) Sophomores Mike Reilly (Columbus Blue Jackets) and Brady Skjei (New York Rangers) have developed throughout the year - both also put on 10-15 lbs of muscle in the offseason - to the point where the duo are two of the better blue liners in the college ranks.

Reilly, this year's Big Ten Defenseman of the Year, is second on the Gophers in points with 32. Beyond the boxscore, he is capable of starting and leading a rush or being a power play quarterback. His chemistry with junior Sam Warning has led to a half-dozen goals on both ends. Skjei, meanwhile, is the defensive defenseman of the pair (which actually isn't a pair - they don't play together).

That would be good by itself, but what has really put the two on a different level lately is the multi-dimensional growth. Reilly has become a better defensive defenseman, no longer relying on his partner to cover his tracks. Skjei lately has also been growing into a two-way D, taking the green light, scoring with 3 of his 6 goals happening against Michigan in March, and even skating below the net and through the offensive zone to find a play.

They aren't alone. From seniors Justin Holl (Chicago Blackhawks) and Jake Parenteau to freshmen Michael Brodzinski (San Jose Sharks) and Jake Bischoff (New York Islanders), the blue line has looked good. If that continues, the road to Philly ends in gold.

--

Nathan Wells is a college hockey columnist for SB Nation. You can also follow him on Twitter --

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