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Series of the Weekend: Minnesota at Wisconsin

NCAA HOCKEY: MAR 24 Div I Women’s Championship - Minnesota v Wisconsin Photo by M. Anthony Nesmith/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Parity continues to grow every year in women’s college hockey. Northeastern, Ohio State, and Cornell have emerged as legitimate Frozen Four contenders, fully capable of pulling off an upset and taking home their first national title. But at least for the time being, the world still revolves around the two Goliaths in the women’s game: Minnesota and Wisconsin. And this weekend at Madison’s LaBahn Arena, they will face-off for the second, but probably not last, time this season.

As expected, this weekend could be the one that decides the WCHA regular season title. Minnesota currently holds a five-point edge on the Badgers in the standings, but Wisconsin has played two fewer games, meaning the Badgers have one fewer point lost than the Gophers. Four+ points for either team this weekend likely puts them in the driver’s seat for the title in the final month for the regular season.

Minnesota won the previous match-up back in early-November taking five of the six weekend points at Ridder Arena. Minnesota handed Wisconsin their first loss of the season with a 4-2 win on Friday night, and then tied on Saturday night 2-2. Minnesota took the extra point in the shootout in emphatic fashion when Amy Potomak scored this between-the-legs shootout goal.

In a rarity for these two teams, neither team comes in with a winning streak. Wisconsin lost their last game, against Bemidji State, two weekends ago, which was their only other loss this season besides the one to Minnesota earlier this year. Minnesota was humbled last Friday night by Ohio State, before rebounding for an outdoor win on Hockey Day Minnesota on Saturday.

The match-up between these two teams likely comes down to Wisconsin’s extremely powerful top line against Minnesota’s depth at forward. Wisconsin’s top line of Daryl Watts, Sophie Shirley, and Abby Roque ranks first, second, and fourth nationally in scoring respectively. They help give Wisconsin the top overall offense in the country, scoring 4.79 goals per game. Minnesota’s 3.81 goals per game ranks a respectable sixth nationally, but they don’t quite have the firepower of Wisconsin. Minnesota gets more scoring out of their second and third lines, but not enough to make up the difference in scoring between Wisconsin’s first line and Minnesota’s first line.

That makes the battle of the first lines a key one this weekend. In the first series, the two teams matched their first lines up against each other frequently. If Minnesota’s first line can outscore Wisconsin’s top line, as they did in the first series, Minnesota will likely have success this weekend. If Wisconsin’s top line can outscore Minnesota’s, it’s going to be tough for Minnesota to make that up elsewhere in the line-up.

One way for Wisconsin’s top line to get on track offensively is via the power play. Wisconsin leads the nation with a ridiculous 36.49 power play percentage. Minnesota’s penalty kill ranks fourth nationally at a very good 91.78%, but they’re definitely playing with fire if they give Wisconsin a man advantage. The first meeting between these teams was pretty clean though. There was only one single penalty called over the course of the entire weekend last time these two teams met.

Overall, it should be a very good weekend of hockey. Minnesota had the edge in Minnesota, but playing in front of a packed crowd at LaBahn could be enough to swing things in Wisconsin’s direction.

Friday’s game faces off at 7:07pm, while Saturday’s finale kicks off a 3:07. Both games will be available on BTN+($)