Anthony LaPanta’s Gopher hockey preview

Posted February 18, 2011 4:07 p.m. CT

FOX Sports North

The Gophers head into a very important WCHA series against the Badgers this weekend in Madison. Minnesota enters the final three weekends one point behind Colorado College in the race for the sixth and final home ice position in the first round of the league playoffs, and just three points behind the fifth place Badgers.

“Right now, we know we could finish anywhere from fifth to 11th,” said head coach Don Lucia. “It is all up to us, but we know we have to win games from here to the end.”

The seven teams currently sitting between fifth and 11th in the league are separated by only seven points, with most having six games remaining. Minnesota has a favorable schedule, hosting Michigan Tech and visiting Bemidji State after this weekend’s trip to Madison.

The Gophers are trying to build upon one of their most impressive offensive showing of the year. They scored seven times against the then fourth-ranked Denver Pioneers in a 7-3 win Saturday night.

“It was nice to finally see some goals,” said forward Erik Haula, who had posted just one assist in 10 games since Nov. 28 before registering two goals and two asissts in the Denver series. “I think it can help all of the guys feel better, but now we have to keep it going.”

Wisconsin is trying to bounce back from two losses in Omaha last weekend, and is suddenly back on the NCAA bubble. The Badgers had been 12-1 in their 13 previous games, but have now slipped to 14th in the most recent Pairwise rankings. Minnesota stands 19th, so this series is critical for both teams.

“I sure expect to see us play as a desperate hockey team,” said Lucia. “We have shown we can play with anyone (the Gophers are 3-3-2 against the league’s top three teams), but we haven’t shown the consistency needed to play at the level we can.”

Despite getting Nico Sacchetti back, the Gophers will again be shorthanded. Jake Hansen is unavailable Friday night after his game disqualification on last Saturday against Denver, and Jay Barriball’s status is still unknown for the weekend.