Valuable home playoff spot on the line for Colorado College, Wisconsin

It’s not that this weekend’s games between Wisconsin and Colorado College never had anything on the line, but the series has taken on a whole new meaning since the end of January.

Wisconsin goalie Scott Gudmandson blocks a shot during the third period. No. 16 UNO beat No. 7 Wisconsin 4-3 Saturday night at Qwest Center Omaha. (Photo by Michelle Bishop) (Michelle Bishop)
Scott Gudmandson and Wisconsin went through February without a win, leaving the Badgers needing three points in the final weekend to get home ice for the playoffs (photo: Michelle Bishop).

At that point, Wisconsin was amid a five-game winning streak and sitting in fourth place in the WCHA standings, four points behind first-place North Dakota and six points ahead of CC. Scott Gudmandson was a brick wall in front of the net and the offense was providing just enough to win.

Then, the opponents got a little more tough, Gudmandson began to let more pucks through, the offense didn’t improve and the Badgers finished a winless February. Wisconsin was swept out of Omaha and St. Cloud while Minnesota left Madison with three points.

The Tigers now lead the Badgers by a point, and the season finale series is now a showdown for home ice.

It’s a definite possibility these teams could meet up in next week’s first round of playoffs, this series could be the difference-maker on whether that’s in Colorado Springs or Madison. If fifth-place Minnesota keeps its hot streak going at Bemidji State and eighth-place St. Cloud State comes up empty at Denver, Wisconsin and CC will be alone on an island in the middle of the standings.

One CC win this weekend will clinch home ice for the Tigers. The Badgers need three points to gain home ice because Wisconsin would then own the tiebreaker. The first tie-breaking criteria is head-to-head competition, and this is the only series of the season between the teams.

In addition to the comfort of home ice in the playoffs, neither team wants to hit the road to begin the playoffs. CC hasn’t won a road game since it swept Michigan Tech and SCSU on the road in early December. Wisconsin has taken itself out of games in the last four road losses at Nebraska-Omaha and SCSU, getting outscored 18-9 with two garbage-time goals in the most recent loss to the Huskies.

Wisconsin’s goaltending situation, which was so positive in the fall with Gudmandson platooning with Brett Bennett, has gone sour. The Badgers stuck with Gudmandson when he got hot and allowed no more than two goals per game over a 13-game stretch going into February. He gave up seven goals in the UNO series, five to the Gophers on Feb. 18 and seven to SCSU last Saturday on 32 shots.

The Badgers need the offensive outbursts they got from Mark Zengerle in the beginning of the season. The one-time WCHA rookie of the week scored 19 points with seven multi-point games in the first 25 games of the season.

The defensive pairing of Jake Gardiner and Justin Schultz has been one of the constants for Wisconsin through wins and losses. Schultz has 15 points in the 12 games since WCHA play opened after the New Year. Gardiner has 12 points in that stretch. Saturday at SCSU was the first time since Jan. 14 that neither recorded a point.

The Badgers are going to win this series and home ice if Schultz and Gardiner continue their high productivity from the blue line. Wisconsin also needs to find stability in net, whether Gudmandson or Bennett starts. One wrong move could cost the Badgers the game, and remember, CC needs only two points to lock up the sixth spot.

CC will get that win if Wisconsin gives the Tigers too many power play opportunities. The Badgers’ penalty kill has been terrible the past six games (74 percent) and the CC power play is 6-for-18 with Jaden Schwartz back on its first unit. The freshman has assisted on four power-play goals and scored one in the four games since his return from a fractured ankle. He’s been on the ice for all six power-play goals.

Matchups at a glance

Here’s a look at the series on the final week of the regular season:

Minnesota at Bemidji State

Records: MINN — 15-12-5 (12-10-4 WCHA). BSU — 12-16-4 (8-14-4 WCHA).

Last meeting: The teams split in November 2009 in Minneapolis.

Special teams: MINN — 21 percent PP (14th in nation), 76.8 percent PK (55th in nation). BSU — 20.2 percent PP (17th in nation), 79.9 percent PK (41st in nation).

Streaks: MINN 5-game unbeaten. BSU 2-game losing.

Goaltending: MINN — Kent Patterson (26 GP, 13-7-5, 2.49 goals-against average, .920 save percentage). BSU — Dan Bakala (25 GP, 11-11-3, 2.40 GAA, .920 save percentage).

Leading scorer: MINN — Jacob Cepis (12-17–29). BSU — Jordan George (15-17–32).

St. Cloud State at Denver

Records: SCSU — 14-15-5 (10-12-4 WCHA). DU — 20-9-5 (16-7-3 WCHA).

Last meeting: The teams split in November 2009 in Denver.

Special teams: SCSU — 18.1 percent PP (25th in nation), 83.8 percent PK (22nd in nation). DU — 19 percent PP (20th in nation). 86.6 percent PK (6th in nation).

Streaks: SCSU 2-game winning. DU 1-game winning.

Goaltending: SCSU — Mike Lee (27 GP, 10-11-4, 2.84 GAA, .906 save percentage). DU — Sam Brittain (25 GP, 14-6-5, 2.26 GAA, .922 save percentage).

Leading scorer: SCSU — Drew LeBlanc (13-26–39). DU — Drew Shore (21-20–41).

North Dakota at Michigan Tech

Records: UND — 24-8-3 (19-6-1 WCHA). MTU — 4-26-4 (2-22-2 WCHA).

Last meeting: UND swept MTU in March 2010 in Grand Forks.

Special teams: UND — 21.7 percent PP (10th in nation), 84 percent PK (15th in nation). MTU — 17 percent PP (35th in nation), 76.9 percent PK (54th in nation).

Streaks: UND 7-game unbeaten. MTU 3-game losing.

Goaltending: UND — Aaron Dell (32 GP, 23-6-2, 1.98 GAA, .918 save percentage). MTU — Kevin Genoe (21 GP, 3-15-2, 3.61 GAA, .893 save percentage).

Leading scorer: UND — Matt Frattin (27-15–42). MTU — Milos Gordic (15-6–21).

Nebraska-Omaha at Minnesota-Duluth

Records: UNO — 20-12-2 (16-8-2 WCHA). UMD — 19-8-5 (14-7-5 WCHA).

Last meeting: UMD beat UNO, 5-2, in October 2001 in Omaha.

Special teams: UNO — 18.1 percent PP (27th in nation), 84.2 percent PK (13th in nation). UMD — 21.6 percent PP (12th in nation). 81.8 percent PK (32nd in nation).

Streaks: UNO 1-game losing. UMD 2-game winless.

Goaltending: UNO — John Faulkner (34 GP, 19-11-2, 2.46 GAA, .912 save percentage). UMD — Kenny Reiter (22 GP, 9-5-5, 2.39 GAA, .912 save percentage) and Aaron Crandall (16 GP, 10-3-1, 2.79 GAA, .894 save percentage).

Leading scorer: UNO — Joey Martin (11-23–34). UMD — Jack Connolly (13-36–39).

Colorado College at Wisconsin

Records: CC — 18-15-3 (12-12-2 WCHA). UW — 19-13-4 (11-12-3 WCHA).

Last meeting: The teams split in January 2010 in Colorado Springs.

Special teams: CC — 21.9 percent PP (9th in nation), 80.5 percent PK (37th in nation). UW — 22.8 percent PP (8th in nation). 80.2 percent PK (40th in nation).

Streaks: CC 2-game unbeaten. UW 6-game winless.

Goaltending: CC — Joe Howe (28 GP, 13-12-2, 3.08 GAA, .897 save percentage). UW — Scott Gudmandson (26 GP, 14-10-1, 2.25 GAA, .919 save percentage).

Leading scorer: CC — Tyler Johnson (20-17–37). UW — Justin Schultz (17-28–45).

Alaska-Anchorage at Minnesota State

Records: UAA — 12-17-3 (10-14-2 WCHA). MSU — 14-14-6 (8-14-4 WCHA).

Last meeting: MSU took three points from UAA in October in Anchorage.

Special teams: UAA — 15.1 percent PP (46th in nation), 83 percent PK (23rd in nation). MSU — 15.0 percent PP (48th in nation), 82.2 percent PK (28th in nation).

Streaks: UAA 1-game winning. MSU 1-game losing.

Goaltending: UAA — Rob Gunderson (22 GP, 7-13-2, 2.79 GAA, .897 save percentage). MSU — Phil Cook (25 GP, 10-11-4, 3.04 GAA, .903 save percentage).

Leading scorer: UAA — Tommy Grant (12-15–27). MSU — Mike Dorr (12-13–25) and Kurt Davis (8-17–25).