The (technically) reigning champions Wisconsin women's hockey team (14-3-1) starts their quest to defend their two-year-old title on Tuesday in Erie, PA. The No. 2 seed Badgers face No. 15 Providence in the first round.
Despite being crowned the WCHA regular-season and tournament champions, a feat often hailed as the most challenging task in women's hockey, the Badgers lost their No. 1 ranking to Northeastern entering the NCAA Tournament, falling to No. 2 for the third time this season.
In that WCHA conference tournament, Wisconsin managed to take down Minnesota, 5-3, in the semifinal before outlasting Ohio State, 3-2, in an overtime thriller for the title. Forward Lacey Eden led the way for the Badgers in the two games, scoring four points over the weekend. The freshman phenom capped off her stellar tournament with the game-winner 42 seconds into the overtime period against Ohio State to secure the Badgers' second trophy of the season.
Meanwhile, in the Hockey East conference tournament, Providence was playing for their season, hoping to make a case for a spot in the NCAA dance. Sitting on the bubble heading into their conference tournament, Providence knew they needed at least two wins to give themselves a good chance of keeping their season alive.
The Friars got out to a 4-1 lead in their quarterfinal matchup against Boston University, but two Terrier goals in the third period raised some concern in the Providence faithful. The Friars were able to hang onto the 4-3 lead, though, setting up a semifinal meeting with Maine.
Looking for their first conference title appearance since 2012, Providence needed more than the 60 minutes allotted to find the back of the net. After the Friars and the Black Bears played to a scoreless tie through three periods, forward Hunter Barnett scored just her second goal of the season to win the bout for Providence.
Providence faced off against NCAA top seed Northeastern in the Hockey East championship game and was completely outmatched. The Huskies knotted two in the first, one in the second and three in the third in a 6-2 thrashing to send Providence home empty-handed.
Unsurprisingly considering the seeding matchup, this should be an easy win for Wisconsin. The Badgers rank higher than Providence in nearly every team and individual statistic. However, one area that could be concerning is the Providence power play unit, which has scored over a quarter of the team's total goals on the season.
The Friars rank fourth in the nation in power play percentage, having converted 21.9% of their power play opportunities this season. The Badgers penalty kill ranks fifth in the NCAA but will be tested if forced to play a man down.
Wisconsin will win if they can keep the goals coming. The Badgers have scored at least three goals in 12 of their 18 games this year. Likewise, Providence has only reached the three goals mark in four of their 20 games. As long as Wisconsin can keep up their 3.9 goals per game average, they should win this game going away.
Wisconsin starts their title defense at 1:00 p.m. on Tuesday. All four of the quarterfinal games, which begin on Monday, can be streamed on NCAA.com.