The Gophers benefited from their recent bye week in more ways than they could have hoped.
Not only did the team rest and relax in preparation for the last month of WCHA play, but it sat back and watched as the three teams on its heels struggled to make up ground.
Second-place Minnesota-Duluth split with last-place Alaska-Anchorage in a series that could have pulled the Bulldogs within one point of the WCHA lead.
Colorado College and Denver, on the other hand, beat up on each other in a heated in-state rivalry.
No. 2 Minnesota (19-9-1, 15-5-0 WCHA) walked away from the weekend unharmed and still has a three-point lead over UMD in the WCHA.
The Gophers also close the regular season with the easiest remaining schedule of the top four teams.
Minnesota will face opponents with a combined conference winning percentage of .402 the rest of the way. Its toughest foe, Denver, has a .500 conference winning percentage.
The Gophers have split five conference series this season, but their play early in the season has provided them with a padded lead moving forward.
The team can almost taste the MacNaughton Cup trophy for the first time since the 2006-07 season, but Minnesota cannot get too far ahead of itself.
As UMD proved last weekend against lowly Alaska-Anchorage, no game in the WCHA is a guaranteed win.
The No. 3 Bulldogs (18-6-4, 12-5-3 WCHA) have the second easiest schedule left and will matchup against teams with a combined conference winning percentage of .452.
UMD rode an undefeated streak earlier this season that lasted nearly three months but has been reeling lately with only one win in its past two series.
No. 10 Colorado College (15-9-2, 12-7-1 WCHA) will play teams with a combined WCHA winning percentage of .475, and its most challenging test will come Feb. 24-25 against UMD.
No. 14 Denver (15-9-4, 10-6-4 WCHA) has the toughest remaining schedule and will face teams with a combined conference winning percentage of 0.512.
Denver will host the Gophers this weekend in a series that could clear up the WCHA or throw a wrench into the season’s finish.
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