NCAA Hockey Tournament 2012: Minnesota Carried Into West Regional By Potent Offense

Minnesota returns to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2008 with a team that has lived up to the high expectations of its fan base. The Gophers' offensive success this year has come from their depth: Minnesota is tied with Minnesota Duluth for the most goals in college hockey with 142 and has six different players who scored more than 30 points and 10 goals. They have three lines that can consistently score.

The leader has been sophomore Nick Bjugstad (Florida Panthers) who leads the team with 24 goals. He's been the catalyst of a line with freshman Kyle Rau (Florida) and redshirt sophomore Zach Budish (Nashville Predators). All three players have exceeded their expectations and pace the Gophers' attack.

In net, senior Kent Patterson (Colorado Avalanche) has played nearly every minute for the team. He's come into his own this season, leading the nation with seven shutouts, but has also had his share of disappointing performances. Their last game against North Dakota in St. Paul saw Minnesota and Patterson give up six goals in a 25 minute stretch and was nothing short of embarrassing.

Although they've been great at overcoming adversity and playing better as the weekend goes on (the Gophers are 16-3-1 on Saturdays this season), that doesn't matter in a single-elimination tournament. As much as the team would love to face North Dakota (who they are 3-2-0 against this season) in the West Regional final, especially after how their last game ended, Minnesota can't think too far ahead.

Get local coverage from SB Nation Minnesota and Gopher-centric coverage from The Daily Gopher. For more on the road to the Frozen Four in Tampa, stick with our 2012 NCAA hockey tournament StoryStream.

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