NCHA playoffs should prove to be more than just a two-team race

Justin Basso and Adrian are shooting for a Harris Cup championship and that quest starts this weekend (photo: Adrian College Athletics).

It was a race to the end, but St. Norbert won the Peters Cup and earned the regular-season title last weekend.

Along with the Green Knights, Adrian, St. Scholastica and Lake Forest will be hosting quarterfinals this weekend.

The third-, fourth- and fifth-seeded teams finished the regular season within three points of each other.

Joining the top four teams in the Harris Cup Playoffs are Marian, Concordia (Wis.), Milwaukee School of Engineering and Lawrence.

The Harris Cup playoffs will have two game-series, with a deciding mini-game if necessary, for the quarterfinals. Winners will advance to one-game elimination semifinals on Saturday, March 1. The two final teams left in the playoffs will battle on Saturday, March 8, hosted by whichever team is seeded higher.

Let’s take a deeper look into the quarterfinal matchups.

Lawrence at St. Norbert

Last week, the Green Knights shut out Northland with 10-0 and 7-0 scores. Lawrence had not yet clinched their playoff spot going into the last weekend of regular season play, needing at least one point out of last weekend’s series with Finlandia. On Friday night, they battled to overtime, but Finlandia got the 4-3 win. On Saturday, Lawrence earned the needed conference point as the Vikings beat Finlandia 4-2. St. Norbert has one of the least friendly arenas in Division III hockey and the Green Knights will continue their strong play.

MSOE at Adrian

MSOE finished the season with a series split with Concordia (Wis.). The Raiders had a decisive 5-1 win on Friday night before battling to a 6-5 loss on Saturday. The Bulldogs finished a point behind St. Norbert in the standings while sweeping Lake Forest in the last weekend of the regular season. The Bulldogs took Friday’s game with a 4-2 win. On Saturday night, Kevin Balas tallied a hat trick for Adrian, including the overtime game-winner, to down Lake Forest 6-5.

These two teams have a storied playoff history. Last season, the Bulldogs beat MSOE for the Harris Cup. In 2011-12, the Raiders earned the Harris Cup glory.

Concordia (Wis.) at St. Scholastica

Concordia, under second-year coach Jasen Wise, is making a conference playoff appearance for the first time since 2008-09, which is just one of the many benchmarks the Falcons are making this season. Last weekend, they split a weekend series with MSOE. St. Scholastica earned the two points they needed to secure home ice for the quarterfinals in a series split with Marian.

Marian at Lake Forest

The Marian Sabres saw a seven-game win streak snapped on Saturday as they fell 3-1 to St. Scholastica. Senior goaltender Josh Baker made 67 saves on the weekend. Lake Forest also had a strong streak going into the weekend, having a nine-game win streak snapped with a weekend sweep to Adrian. The Foresters have been unable to get past the quarterfinals since the 2009-10 season.

Needless to say, playoffs are the most exciting time of the season. Although some matchups seem like no-brainers on who will win, I don’t think anything is certain in this league.