This article is part of our The Daily Puck series.
Around the League
It's set. The winner of the NCAA Frozen Four will be declared Saturday between Quinnipiac, who edged Boston College, 3-2, and North Dakota, whose last-minute goal and empty netter propelled them past Denver, 4-2. Quinnipiac and North Dakota were considered two of the best teams going into the tournament, with Quinnipiac earning the coveted No. 1 seed.
Despite being a lesser known school that doesn't quite attract top talents like North Dakota, Quinnipiac will head to their second final in four years, with their first appearance ending in a losing effort against Yale in 2013. They were very good against Boston College, but the big question mark that remains is the health of top scorer Sam Anas, who is believed to be suffering from a shoulder injury that's impacted his physical play and scoring prowess.
If Anas isn't 100 percent, they'll need someone to score because it's unlikely they can keep North Dakota's top trio of Drake Caggiula, Nick Schmaltz and Brock Boeser at bay. They were the best line in the NCAA all season and did most of the heavy lifting against Denver, with Schmaltz scoring the game-winner on a rebound from a Caggiula shot that followed a clutch faceoff win by Boeser in the offensive zone with less than a minute to play.
The majority of college free agents have signed, but it'll be interesting to see what happens to North Dakota's top line after the game with all three players potentially signing this summer. Schmaltz, a first-round pick by Chicago, could turn pro after a brilliant sophomore season and provide some depth at center for the Blackhawks, though they're not in a real hurry with centers Jonathan Toews (a fellow NoDak grad), Artem Anisimov and Teuvo Teravainen already. Caggiula, an undrafted senior, is rumored to be coveted by the Canucks, who own Boeser's NHL rights. If North Dakota wins, it's possible all three turn pro, having accomplished what very few college players have had the opportunity to do.
With Friday's lone game of no consequence to the playoff race, here's how everything the first round is stacking up heading into Saturday's 30-team showdown:
M1 Capitals vs. WC2 Red Wings/Bruins/Flyers
M2 Penguins vs. M3 Rangers/Islanders
A1 Panthers vs. WC1 Rangers/Islanders
A2 Lightning vs. A3 Red Wings/Bruins
C1 Stars/Blues vs. WC2 Wild
C2 Stars/Blues vs. C3 Blackhawks
P1 Ducks/Kings vs. WC1 Predators
P2 Ducks/Kings vs. P3 Sharks
Projected Goalie Starters (all times Eastern)
For updates on the projected goalies later in the day, check our Projected Goalies Grid
Injury News For Teams Playing Friday
Columbus Blue Jackets
Jack Johnson, D (shoulder surgery) – out for the season.
Curtis McElhinney, G (knee surgery) – out for the season.
Fedor Tyutin, D (undisclosed) – did not practice Wednesday; no return date set.
David Clarkson, RW (lower body) – did not play Tuesday; questionable.
Cody Goloubef, D (oblique) – left Monday's game; questionable.
Evander Kane, LW (upper body) – out for the season.
Robin Lehner, G (ankle surgery) – out for the season.
Cody Franson, D (concussion) – out for the season.
Tyler Ennis, LW (concussion) – out for the season.
Cody McCormick, C (blood clots) – no timetable for return.
Artemi Panarin, LW, CHI – The entire team was stumped by Brian Elliott last night, but it's pretty clear that Panarin is most effective when playing with Patrick Kane. Without Kane, Panarin isn't as dangerous on even strength, and his continued reliance on Kane and special teams to get points certainly hurts his case for the Calder Trophy. However, three goals and eight assists in his past four games is nothing to sniff at.
Aleksander Barkov, C, FLA – He's on an eight-game point streak, including five goals in his past five games. The big center is the Panthers' best all-round weapon and should log heavy minutes in the playoffs, a true test of just how good he could be. When Dale Tallon made Barkov his pick, many envisioned him as the Jonathan Toews to Jonathan Huberdeau's Kane, and so far things are going swimmingly in Florida.
Devan Dubnyk, G, MIN – The Wild needed other teams to lose to clinch their playoff spot and now head into Saturday's finale on a four-game losing streak, during which Dubnyk's allowed 13 goals and failed to post a save percentage higher than .850. The Wild are slated to play the Pacific Division winner when the playoffs begin.
Claude Giroux, C, PHI – The Flyers captain insists he's fine after taking a hit that knocked him unconscious, but is he really? He hasn't scored since March 28, a span of five games, and has just one assist in that span. Philadelphia is making a last push for a playoff spot and need their captain to step up in a big way with back-to-back games on Saturday and Sunday.
Johan Larsson, C, BUF – After two frustrating years he's finally found a regular home on the Sabres' third line, but what's most fascinating about Larsson is his tendency to finish the season on a strong note. After a slew of injuries pushed him into the No. 1 center role the previous season, Larsson started to tear it up, and while Ryan O'Reilly and Jack Eichel are ahead on the depth chart right now, Larsson's doing the same thing again with three goals and three assists in his past four games. With the two final games coming against lowly BJ's and the Jaroslav Halak-less Islanders, Larsson's a pretty good bet for the final weekend.