Back To Class: Forget the polls, Pairwise is your master now

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We’re taking you “Back To Class” for our roundup of the weekend’s action in college hockey. Look for more college hockey on NBCSN this Friday night at 8:30 p.m. ET as No. 7 North Dakota takes on No. 14 Nebraska-Omaha.

The college season is beginning to wind down and when match-ups come up, most college sports fans will judge the games based on where each team is ranked in the polls. I’m here to tell you that at this point of the year, you’re being lied to.

Watching the polls in February and March, whether it’s the USA Hockey/USA Today poll or the USCHO.com poll, is a pointless process and proof you’ve been conditioned by college football or basketball to buy into these arbitrary rankings. Since the season is winding down, it’s time for college hockey fans to put those voted-on rankings away and focus all attention on the Pairwise Rankings (PWR).

The Pairwise is what the NCAA uses to pick the at-large teams for the NCAA tournament. If your team is amongst the top 16 teams, you’ve got a chance. If they’re in the top 11, you’re virtually guaranteed a spot in the tourney. Unlike the BCS in college football, Pairwise uses all math and no polls to determine how teams shake out. Eliminating the human element, aside from the players on the ice actually winning and losing and tying games, helps makes the process virtually inarguable.

Take a look at how the Top 20 would be right now if you went by PWR according to CHN (USCHO.com also does their own):

1.    Quinnipiac
2.    Minnesota
3.    Miami
4.    Boston College
5.    New Hampshire
6.    Western Michigan
7.   Yale
8.    St. Cloud State
9.    Niagara
10.   North Dakota
11.   Boston University
12.   Denver
13.   Minnesota State
14.   Alaska-Fairbanks
15.   Dartmouth
16.   Notre Dame
17.   Colgate
18.   UMass-Lowell
19.   Union College
20.   Northern Michigan

When you compare that to how the polls look when they come out later today, you’ll likely see some big differences and that’s because people are who they are.

Polls are based on human opinions and often times those voting in the polls don’t see everyone they’re casting (or not casting) votes for. PWR, thankfully, eliminates that and focuses on whether or not teams are under consideration (TUC) and what a team’s record is against TUCs. Check out College Hockey News’ explanation of the whole thing if you’re feeling lost, it’s worth your time.

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Games to look out for this weekend: Aside from our Friday night game which shapes up to be a great WCHA battle, that conference has another killer tilt with Minnesota facing conference-leading St. Cloud State. Their weekend battle is one not to be missed. In the CCHA, Miami and Western Michigan face off for a pair in Kalamazoo to see who can take charge there.

Quinnipiac owns the ECAC: The Bobcats ran their unbeaten streak to 19 games after tying Brown and handing rival Yale their lunch on their ice to the tune of 6-2. Quinnipiac was down 2-0 right off the bat but came romping back through to turn it into a laugher. QU is now seven points up on second-place Yale and 10 up on Dartmouth and Union.

The Niagara situation: The Purple Eagles are the best team in Atlantic Hockey. At 17-4-5 they’re taking care of their business and they’ve got a heck of a goalie leading the way for them. They’re now also up to ninth in the PWR which puts the whole Pairwise situation in a different place.

In the past, teams had to try and aim for at least 15th in the PWR because a less-than great Atlantic team would get one of the spots in the tourney. If Niagara stays strong and rolls through the conference tourney on their way to an auto-bid, it’s possible that winding up 16th in PWR might just land you a spot in the NCAA tournament.

(Photo: ECAC Hockey)

Video: Senators make Penguins pay for penalties with 1-1 goal

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The Ottawa Senators have defied odds during the Stanley Cup Playoffs, and they’ve done so with what’s often been an ice-cold power play.

They finally struck gold on the man advantage on Tuesday, and at a key moment. The Pittsburgh Penguins were dominating much of the game and pressing for an even bigger edge after Evgeni Malkin made it 1-0.

Maybe the Penguins got overzealous, or maybe officials … finally started making some calls. Either way, the Senators ended up with a 5-on-3 advantage for almost a minute-and-a-half. With that opportunity, Bobby Ryan scored a huge goal for Ottawa on a shot that was both oddly and perfectly placed.

Moments later, Kyle Turris narrowly missed a golden opportunity, so the contest remained tied 1-1.

Despite a late push by the Penguins to finish the second, Game 6 will enter the third period with a 1-1 score.

CLICK HERE TO WATCH LIVE COVERAGE FOR GAME 6

Another big goal from Malkin; another confusing goalie interference review

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The Ottawa Senators are ready for a fight in Game 6, which seemingly means that the Pittsburgh Penguins must grind for space and chances. So far, the Penguins are willing to do just that.

Being that this is the Stanley Cup Playoffs, it also means that you need to shrug off setbacks … and the Penguins are doing well in that area, too.

After a 0-0 first period, it seemed like Trevor Daley scored a “greasy” 1-0 goal, but after a review, it was dismissed because of goalie interference. The crowd’s silent, confused response mirrored many on social media who genuinely don’t know what is or is not interference any longer.

The Penguins could have sulked after that near-goal. Instead, they just kept chipping away. Evgeni Malkin finally broke the ice – for real – with a gritty 1-0 tally. You can watch that ugly-pretty effort in the video above this post’s headline.

This marks Malkin’s seventh goal and 24th point of the postseason. No one else has reached 20 yet.

CLICK HERE TO WATCH LIVE COVERAGE FOR GAME 6

Colin White makes Senators playoff debut, Penguins lineup the same

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The Stanley Cup Playoffs often feel like a battle of attrition, which only makes the introduction of fresh faces that much more compelling.

Try this on for size: with their playoff lives on the line, the Ottawa Senators will see the playoff debut of 2015 first-rounder* Colin White against the Pittsburgh Penguins on Tuesday. It’s also just his third game at the NHL level, overall.

After rolling with seven defensemen in Game 5, Guy Boucher is opting for a traditional alignment of 12 forwards and six defensemen.

White has that high-level pedigree and possibly fresh legs – even just relatively speaking – so it’s not out of the question for the 20-year-old center to make an impact.

Check out the full roster report here (note: Pittsburgh’s going with the same group as Game 5). Scott Wilson is good to go for the Penguins.

* – 21st overall.

Boucher on Senators’ resiliency: ‘We’ve always chosen to fight’

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It’s almost always intriguing to see how a team responds to a tough playoff loss, but that fascination spikes even more if said team fell by an especially lopsided score.

We’ve seen the Pittsburgh Penguins respond to some blowouts with big wins, but now the shoe is on the other foot; how will the Ottawa Senators rebound from the 7-0 shellacking they suffered in Game 5?

Well, if you ask Guy Boucher, they’ve developed a track record that shows they’re willing to fight with their backs against the wall.

Great stuff, right? It’s honestly too bad that Boucher’s defensive system isn’t always as entertaining as his quotes.

Speaking of how Game 5 feeds into tonight’s Game 6, the video above this post’s headline discusses how Ottawa’s goaltenders might be feeling heading into Tuesday.

CLICK HERE TO WATCH LIVE COVERAGE FOR GAME 6