TMQ: Tough opponents, injuries haven’t slowed No. 1 Minnesota

Jim: This week is pretty easy to start TMQ: Minnesota put a stake in the ground with three wins. The most important of those was a solid performance against Notre Dame that showed this team at least appears to be the real deal. Now, I am not falling off the Boston College bandwagon, but the Gophers look incredible right now.

Todd: It’s definitely a good point to tip your cap toward what the Gophers have done recently. I guess if you’re going to have any issue with the big wins they’ve put up (Boston College, Notre Dame), it’s that they’ve come at home. Minnesota is 11-1-1 at home and 5-2-2 on the road. That being said, its remaining schedule still has more home games (seven) than road games (six, with one neutral-site game).

What has really impressed me about the Gophers lately is that even after they lost top scorer Erik Haula to injury after the Boston College game, their offense just kept chugging along, scoring four against Notre Dame and 11 in two games against Alaska-Anchorage.

Jim: I really love the Gophers’ stats of late. The only thing I wonder is how you vote against Minnesota. Three first-place votes were cast against the Gophers in this week’s Division I Men’s Poll. So I have to ask you how you reason this.

Todd: I guess you could use the theory that if Minnesota isn’t the top team in either the PairWise Rankings or the RPI (it’s fourth in both), there could be a better team out there. Quinnipiac, for instance, has a better record and a higher strength of schedule, which I absolutely take into consideration when I’m voting. But taking everything into account, I think Minnesota is the top team out there right now.

Could that change after the Gophers host North Dakota this weekend? Absolutely. Things are very fluid in the rankings, and not just the PairWise.

Jim: I agree. To me, Minnesota was an easy vote but I can see a case for other teams. Two of those teams squared off in an impressive home-and-home last week: Boston College and New Hampshire. I would say that was the most interesting 120 minutes of hockey I saw all season.

Both teams had solid spurts but BC’s top two lines did such a great job all weekend. Its points came on Friday, not on Saturday and that translated into a weekend split. One thing is sure in my mind: These are the two best teams in Hockey East. Whether they are there come season’s end is a tough call, as I highlighted in my blog Monday.

Todd: It’s more than a month until the last of three regular season games between the teams this season (Feb. 17 at BC), but I’m guessing that game will still have a lot to do with the top spot in the final standings.

Earlier this season, we talked about Wisconsin’s slow start but that seems like a long time ago now. After beating then-No. 11 Minnesota State twice last weekend on the road, the Badgers are back above .500 overall and just three points out of first place in the WCHA.

Their unbeaten streak is at 10 games, which coincides with the length of time that freshman forward Nic Kerdiles has played with the team after a 10-game NCAA suspension. So I’m curious to see which Badgers team will show up for the next 10 games. It’s pretty clear that Wisconsin can be a dangerous team when it has everything in order.

Jim: It is so incredibly impressive how Kerdiles being in the lineup coincides with the play of the Badgers. Obviously, one player can’t make a lineup but I do believe that Wisconsin needed a jump start. Is Kerdiles the guy? That is still to be seen but he has certainly energized things.

Todd: It could be that him entering the mix finally put the pieces of the forward lineup in the right places to work. It’s tough to have that thin of a margin, though, going through the second half of the season. The Badgers have a good home test with No. 8 Miami at the Kohl Center for a non-conference series this weekend and need to start building strength at home. They’re just 2-4-2 at the Kohl Center and have 11 of their 16 remaining regular season games there.

Jim: That’s a pretty incredible stat for a team that at least seems to be above average.

Now, if you want a team that has defined itself as above average, let’s again look at Quinnipiac. A 16-game unbeaten streak has the Bobcats tied for the top spot in the PairWise with BC and UNH. A tie against Rensselaer may have been a hiccup in the road, but Saturday’s victory over nationally ranked Union was just what that team needed.

I am at a point where I think of QU as a top-five team that is pretty much guaranteed its first at-large NCAA tournament bid.

Todd: And Quinnipiac showed some mettle in coming back from a 2-0 deficit after two periods against Union for a 3-2 victory. That gave the Bobcats a 10-point advantage in the ECAC Hockey standings with 10 games to play. It’s not time to hand over the Cleary Cup to Quinnipiac just yet, but it would be a real shock to me if that’s not the way it plays out.

Let’s look at this week’s schedule, which shows eight games between ranked teams. No. 1 Minnesota hosts No. 6 North Dakota and No. 7 Denver is at No. 19 St. Cloud State in WCHA series. No. 17 Union hosts No. 16 Cornell on Friday and No. 20 Colgate on Saturday. Also Saturday, No. 9 Boston University hosts No. 19 Massachusetts-Lowell and No. 11 Dartmouth is at No. 12 Yale. That all should make for a pretty solid weekend.