With sweeps this weekend, St. Cloud State and Denver have set the stage for a series next weekend that could determine the WCHA championship.
Greg Barber knocked in the game-winning goal for Denver (26-5-1, 19-4-1 WCHA) with seven seconds to play Saturday night to give the Pioneers a 3-2 victory, their fourth straight win over the Badgers.
The sweep gives them a one-point lead heading into this weekend's showdown in Denver against the Huskies.
No one in the league has been better than St. Cloud State (26-5-2, 18-4-2) lately, who stands at 5-0 over the past five games and is poised to reclaim the WCHA Final Five title they won last year.
After a 7-4 victory Friday night, the Huskies aced Alaska-Anchorage (9-16-5, 8-14-4) 4-0 on Saturday, lifted by goals from four different players.
"Everybody went out and worked hard and we played as a team," said Derek Eastman, a Huskies defenseman who scored Saturday. "It was just plain, simple, smart hockey. This is the time to peak, right now."
It would be St. Cloud State's first MacNaughton Cup victory in school history.
In other WCHA action, Colorado College (20-9-3, 14-18-2) split the series with Minnesota (22-7-4, 14-7-3), but clinched a first-round tournament advantage with a 6-5 win over the Gophers Friday night. Minnesota-Duluth (12-19-3, 5-16-3) picked up a victory and forced a tie against Minnesota State, Mankato (14-16-2, 10-14-2), and Michigan Tech (7-23-2, 3-19-2) dropped two games to North Dakota (14-15-2, 9-13-2).
Over the next two weeks, Wisconsin; Minnesota State, Mankato; Alaska-Anchorage and North Dakota are battling for the remaining WCHA home playoff advantage. With 23 points, Wisconsin is the front-runner. But at no more than three points behind, any of those teams has a viable shot.
Minnesota continued its recent tradition of pulling out splits after weak showings on Friday.
Adam Hauser got the nod for the Gophers after sitting out Friday's game with an ankle injury. Outshot 10-6 and outscored 1-0 in the first period, Minnesota got off to a rocky start Saturday.
But the Gophers found their stride in the second period and ran along with the Tigers to force a 3-3 tie. In the third period, Minnesota blew past Colorado College with four goals, while Hauser kept a lid on the goal to preserve the victory.
It was the 140th game of Hauser's career, which ties the WCHA goaltender record set by Wisconsin's Graham Melanson last year. With his 73rd career victory, Hauser also etched his name in the school record books alongside former Gopher goalkeeper Robb Stauber.
North Dakota might not have beaten history last weekend, but they did bury Michigan Tech in a torrent of scoring in a 12-2 victory Friday night. The Fighting Sioux's 4-3 victory Saturday night marks their first home sweep since they took two from Colorado College on Oct. 12-13.
"It's huge," said Fighting Sioux forward Ryan Bayda. "We haven't had a lot of success here. To come out and play two strong games this weekend, that's big. We need to build on it and get into a roll heading into the playoffs."
Minnesota-State, Mankato squandered a 2-0 lead to tie Minnesota-Duluth 4-4 Saturday night, after the Bulldogs handed the Mavericks a 6-3 defeat on Friday.
B.J. Abdel chipped in two goals for Minnesota-State, Mankato in Saturday's game. Judd Medak picked up an assist and a goal over the series to lift his team-leading point tally to 44.
Wisconsin (12-16-4, 10-11-3) rebounded from an embarrassing 5-2 loss to Denver Friday night with a solid performance Saturday. But because of a controversial call, it won't ever show up on the stat sheets.
Barber tipped in the game-winning goal off a face-off set up by an icing call against the Badgers. That call came just seconds after the linesman waved off an icing penalty against Denver.
"We deserved a better fate," said Wisconsin coach Jeff Sauer. "The critical calls at critical times just aren't going our way."
With the loss, Wisconsin fell under .500 in league play for the first time since the end of the 1998-99 season.
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