WCHA Picks: Mar. 30 (NCAA Tournament)

West Regional final – Grand Rapids, Mich.
No. 2 North Dakota vs. No. 4 Yale

Matthew: North Dakota was the only WCHA team of the four playing in Friday’s opening day of the NCAA tournament to progress to a regional final, and UND was made to work for its success in a 2-1 triumph over Niagara. Many UND fans are happy their team won’t face Minnesota in Saturday’s regional final, but Yale will provide a much tougher test than the Purple Eagles did in the opening round. The No. 15 Bulldogs’ upset win over the second-ranked Gophers Friday afternoon was hardly a fluke – Minnesota largely dug its own grave, including a turnover in the Gophers’ own zone that led to an overtime game-winning goal for Yale nine seconds into the extra period – and UND can’t afford to overlook them. It’s worth keeping in mind that UND lost to Yale in a regional in 2010, but I don’t see history repeating itself here. UND wins and punches its ticket to the Frozen Four in Pittsburgh.

Tyler: North Dakota didn’t look nearly as dialed in as I thought it would be Friday but it did face a great goaltender, Hobey Baker finalist Carsen Chubak, who turned in a splendid performance. From a psychological angle, UND can’t rest on its laurels knowing it doesn’t have to face Minnesota, but, if you watched Yale Friday, there’s no reason to overlook a team that seemed as poised as the Bulldogs did against the Gophers. I see UND playing focused, taking care of business and advancing to the Frozen Four. UND wins and perhaps its fans can erase the memory of the regional loss to Yale in 2010.

Midwest Regional semifinals – Toledo, Ohio
No. 4 St. Cloud State vs. No. 1 Notre Dame

Matthew: Notre Dame has been virtually perfect so far this month, winning four games in a row against Bowling Green and sweeping through the last-ever CCHA playoffs, conceding only five goals in that competition. However, I think St. Cloud State is very dangerous as a No. 4 regional seed, and the Fighting Irish will pay if they overlook the Huskies at all. I wish I was more convinced by SCSU’s defense and goaltender Ryan Faragher – the Huskies are giving up an average of 2.49 goals so far this season – but I don’t think high-flying SCSU seniors like Drew LeBlanc and Ben Hanowski will allow their collegiate careers to end with a whimper. I’m picking SCSU to win in what would be less of an upset than fourth-over-first results in these regional semifinals normally suggest.

Tyler: St. Cloud State is the No. 4 seed no top seed wants to play and, if not for a few slip-ups early in the season, the Huskies would be seeded higher. Ryan Faragher needs to be better in goal for SCSU than he was last week, now facing a very skilled Irish team that enters the tourney on one of the better hot streaks in the country. SCSU’s power play struggled down the stretch but is 4-for-13 in the playoffs, while Notre Dame’s penalty kill is middle-of-the-road. There’s definitely some talent on that top unit for SCSU, so if it gets a fair amount of opportunities and it takes advantage, I’m calling a Huskies win.

No. 3 Minnesota State vs. No. 2 Miami
Matthew: Minnesota State’s 7-2 loss at the hands of Wisconsin in the teams’ WCHA Final Five quarterfinal last week leaves me very concerned for MSU this time around against Miami. The RedHawks boast the country’s second-best scoring defense (1.73 goals per game), and, although Michigan handed Miami a 6-2 thumping in MU’s last game (CCHA playoff semifinal Mar. 23 in Detroit), freshmen netminders Ryan McKay and Jay Williams have been superb this season. MSU hasn’t played against a top-ten defense since splitting with Minnesota nearly two months ago, and, unfortunately for the Mavericks, I think the RedHawks will shut them down and advance to the Midwest Regional final.

Tyler: MSU needs Stephon Williams to be on top of his game for MSU to be successful. He’s coming off an upper-body injury he suffered last Thursday against Wisconsin when he appeared to get dinged in the head by a Badger. Another key is special teams, where if Miami’s top-notch penalty kill neutralizes MSU’s fourth-ranked power play, the Mavericks season will end Saturday. MSU became a little too reliant on its power play, scoring five of its 10 playoff goals with the man advantage and were fortunate to get nearly five power plays per game since the playoffs started. I’m taking Miami.