The not-so-upbeat companion piece to "5 Reasons You Should Buying Minnesota."
1. Beating the teams behind and splitting ahead
Throughout the ups and downs of a season marked with growing pains, the Gophers have been consistent in being successful against the teams behind it in the standings. Minnesota is 8-0 in the Big Ten against the teams in the bottom half of the standings. The Gophers were able to do what Michigan and Penn State were not able to do - take six points in Columbus. (Michigan played a home-and-home where it tied OSU on the road.)
In fact, only 2 losses this season have come against teams ranked below 30 currently in the Pairwise rankings, which mimic the criteria used to determine the at-large bids.
On the other side, the Gophers are 5-7 versus the teams ahead of Minnesota with no sweeps. This includes two series against Penn State in which the two teams traded wins. To get a sweep against #6 Michigan this weekend would be something Minnesota has yet to do this season.
1a. Several teams Minnesota played earlier this season have been playing good hockey over the past two months. Besides being the last team to defeat Michigan in regulation, wins against Northeastern and Notre Dame (in South Bend) look better in February than November.
2. Michigan's offense: Stopping the CCM line is no easy task
For the Big Ten Title
Thursday and Friday's games at Mariucci Arena feature two teams separated by a point in the standings. Both games are televised nationally on BTN.
The Wolverines have this year been re-testing the discarded theory that offense wins championships. To say Michigan's offense is dangerous is putting it mildly. Entertaining to watch, the Wolverines lead the nation in goals per game with 4.79, nearly a goal better than last year's nation-leading per game total the departed Dylan Larkin and Zach Hyman helped contribute. Multiple times this season that offense has come back from a three goal lead.
And it's gotten better as of late. Only twice has Michigan, averaging 5.5 goals per game in conference, failed to score less than four goals in Big Ten play. Not coincidentally those were Michigan's two conference losses.
No team comes close to having a line like Michigan's top line of Kyle Connor, JT Compher and Tyler Motte in a conference that has made its bones on offense and scoring. Sophomore Zach Werenski might be the best offensive D among the six teams.
Several have tried. Few have been successful.
That includes Minnesota. The Gophers felt its wrath when Connor scored a hat trick in Friday's game - the first by a Michigan freshman since 2001 - and the Wolverines scored 14 seconds into the game and in several bunches. The weekend was a coming out party for Connor, the current national leader in scoring, after he was (stupidly, in hindsight) left off Team USA's World Junior roster.
Lucia this weekend is planning on trying to use his team as a whole rather than one checking line with the last change. One player, Tyler Sheehy, does have experience playing on a line with Connor in juniors. Hudson Fasching has done the same with Motte and Compher.
"For us, we're not going to beat Michigan 5-4. We're not going to beat them 6-5. We have to beat them 3-2 or possibly 4-3. It's how well we play without the puck, being disciplined. We can't give them 4, 5, 6 power play opportunities a night because their power play has really been on with the personnel they have," Lucia said.
"When you're out against (the CCM) line, you better not be taking any 50-50 chances. Sometimes in a shift you have to live to fight another day. We have to make sure that we don't shorten up the rink against them, the whole team, by turning over pucks in the neutral zone. We want them to go 200 feet and go through 4-5 guys."
3. The Week Off
Both teams were off from Big Ten play last weekend. Minnesota had the entire weekend to rest up injuries while Michigan is closer to staying game shape having played Ferris State in one game.
That could be an advantage Thursday for the Wolverines. Both times the Gophers had bye weeks earlier this season it lost the first game it played. Minnesota did defeat Connecticut in the Mariucci Classic to begin the second half of the season, however, it also needed to come back from an early deficit and sluggish start.
Playing Michigan does not afford many opportunities to play catch up.
4. Steve Racine is in goal for the Wolverines
Racine has been the better of Michigan's two goaltenders this season. The senior has a .915 save percentage in 21 games and given up 3 or fewer goals in 5 of his last 6 games
He also was injured the last time Minnesota played the Wolverines.
Instead, the Gophers faced backup Zach Nagelvoort and were able to take advantage. Besides Racine, Minnesota still has to face a goalie that was named the Big Ten player of the year last season in Jake Hildebrand on the road next week. That's four opportunities for a goaltender to steal a much-needed win.
5. The past still haunts: No guarantee to make the NCAA Tournament despite winning the B1G
With the "State of Hockey" branch of college hockey paying more attention to the state than conference, much has been made of Minnesota's record of late against in-state teams. The Gophers are 1-11 against the other four Minnesota schools since November 14, 2014.
The record is a sad indictment and also one that is going to haunt the team whether or not Minnesota's season is successful. With a a 5-10 non-conference record, there is no guarantee a Big Ten regular season championship means the team will be in position to receive an at-large bid.
Teams do not get points for close losses. The Gophers have its share. Minnesota lost three times in overtime and blown several third period leads. The season series losses to the other Minnesota teams mean that the road to getting a bid is that much harder. By holding Pairwise comparisons over the Gophers, there is not much more room to go up in the Pairwise.
Throw in at least 2 conferences needing automatic bids with 2 more having a good chance and sitting at 16 will not do.
According to Jim Dahl's College Hockey Ranked, the Gophers need to win five of its six remaining games to have a chance for an at-large. (Here is what the forecast looks like for this weekend.)
Oddly, it's the team they face that Minnesota's position is similar to now in how Michigan last year. The Wolverines were one of the hottest teams in the second half before falling one game short of an at-large/automatic bid.
A sweep this weekend at the hands of Michigan would be a double whammy, ending both any hopes for a Big Ten title and NCAA bid outside of Minnesota getting an automatic bid. Even a split may not be enough for the latter.
This is something the Gophers, whose second half run of its own a season ago clinched a long-shot at-large bid (it eventually didn't need one by winning the B1G tournament), also know all too well. Kloos said staying positive and knowing they were in the same position last year helps this year's run.
"Just knowing that once you get into the NCAA Tournament that anything can happen," he said.
Nathan Wells is a college hockey columnist for SB Nation mostly covering both the University of Minnesota and Big Ten. You can also follow him on Twitter -- Follow @gopherstate