The First-Round League Playoff Series: Why Is It So Difficult To Sweep?

This is the 15th consecutive season that North Dakota has hosted a first-round playoff series, and UND has fared extremely well on home ice, advancing to the second weekend of the conference tournament in each instance.

North Dakota has put the home fans at ease by winning Friday’s opener in each of the past ten series. Over the past fourteen series, Saturday’s games have been more difficult, as seen by the following breakdown:

Average goals scored/goals allowed in first-round home playoff games (2003-2016):

Friday: 5.00 goals scored/1.57 goals allowed (twelve wins, two losses)
Saturday: 3.21 goals scored/2.14 goals allowed (ten wins, four losses)
Sunday: 3.67 goals scored/1.17 goals allowed (six wins, zero losses)

The way this has played out in the past is that North Dakota has typically hosted a team from the bottom third of the league (Michigan Tech five times, Colorado College three times, MSU-Mankato twice, and once each for Bemidji State, Denver, Minnesota, and Minnesota-Duluth). Friday’s openers have been blowouts, with UND winning twelve of its last fourteen openers by an average score of 5.58 – 1.25.

So why is it that six of the past fourteen home series have gone to a third and decisive game?

The main reason that the Green and White have played much closer games on Saturday night (nine one-goal games) is that in every case, North Dakota was playing to extend its own season and/or end another team’s season. Elimination games bring out the best in both teams, and the results are tightly contested matches. Remarkably, UND played host to five overtime playoff contests from 2003-2008 but only one (a Game Two overtime loss to Colorado College in 2014) since that time.

And not coincidentally, the last time North Dakota was on the road for the first round (2002), they demonstrated similar results. Playing at eventual national champion Minnesota in the opening round of the WCHA playoffs, UND took the Gophers to overtime on Saturday night (losing 4-3) after getting destroyed 7-2 in Friday’s opener.

The boys from Grand Forks have only given up seven total goals in six Sunday home playoff games. Two recent Game Threes went into the books as blowouts (4-1 vs. Minnesota [2010] and 6-0 vs. Michigan Tech [2013]), but the 2014 rubber match against the Tigers went right down to the wire. CC scored an extra-attacker goal with 90 seconds remaining but could not find the equalizer and fell by a score of 4-3.

The only playoff series in the current stretch that did not feature at least one close game was in 2005. North Dakota destroyed Minnesota-Duluth 8-2 and 6-1, with Rory McMahon (2 goals, 5 assists) and Rastislav Spirko (3 goals, 3 assists) leading the way for the Fighting Sioux. Colby Genoway added three goals and two assists, and netminder Jordan Parise turned away 34 of 37 Bulldog shots to earn two victories and the series sweep.

Here are the complete results for the last 34 home conference playoff games:

Year Opponent Game One Game Two Game Three
2016 Colorado College 7-1 5-1
2015 Colorado College 5-1 3-2
2014 Colorado College 4-2 2-3 (OT) 4-3
2013 Michigan Tech 5-3 1-2 6-0
2012 Bemidji State 4-1 4-3
2011 Michigan Tech 8-0 3-1
2010 Minnesota 6-0 2-4 4-1
2009 Michigan Tech 5-1 4-3
2008 Michigan Tech 4-0 2-3 (OT) 2-1
2007 Mankato State 5-2 2-1
2006 Mankato State 2-3 (OT) 4-1 3-0
2005 Minnesota-Duluth 8-2 6-1
2004 Michigan Tech 6-2 4-3 (OT)
2003 Denver 1-4 3-2 (OT) 3-2 (OT)

So what will this weekend’s series between #4 North Dakota and #5 St. Cloud State play out? Will the teams be playing a decisive third game on Sunday evening? Please click here for a full series preview and prediction.

As always, thank you for reading. I welcome your questions, comments, and suggestions. Follow me on Twitter (@DBergerHockey) for more information and insight. Here’s to hockey!