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When the Gophers men's hockey team sweeps a home series, the university's Maroon Pep Band plays "The Battle Hymn of the Republic'' as part of the postgame celebration of the accomplishment.

That song, though, hasn't been heard very often this season at 3M Arena at Mariucci, nor have the Gophers piled up sweeps on the road. Through 12 series this season, coach Bob Motzko's team has swept three opponents, has eight series splits and has been swept once. That's left the Gophers with a 14-10 record — on track to possibly sneak into the 16-team NCAA tournament field but by no means are they a lock to get there.

If they want to return to the national tournament after reaching the Loveland, Colo., regional final last year, the Gophers could help themselves by securing some sweeps in the final five weeks of the regular season, which begins Friday and Saturday at Notre Dame. They have posted splits in seven of their past eight series, and this weekend they'll face a Fighting Irish team they swept 4-1 and 3-2 at Mariucci in late October.

"You can't sweep if you don't win Friday,'' Gophers sophomore defenseman Mike Koster said. "We're just looking for that first 20 minutes coming out. We've played these guys and know what to expect. It's going to be a close game, always.''

The Gophers are in third place in the Big Ten with 27 points, three more than the fourth-place Fighting Irish (17-7 overall). Michigan and Ohio State share the conference lead with 33 points each, but both the Wolverines and Buckeyes have played two more Big Ten games than Minnesota and Notre Dame.

"Things are heating up in our league, and both teams are playing well,'' Motzko said of his club and the Fighting Irish. "It'll probably be another classic series that we've had with them.''

The Gophers have won the opener in their past five series, which includes a trek to North Dakota, two series against Michigan, a trip to Michigan State and a home set vs. Alaska. In the finale of those series, though, they are 1-4, being outscored 19-13. In Saturday's 4-1 loss to Michigan, the Gophers took an early 1-0 lead and outshot the Wolverines 40-19, but turnovers and substandard backchecking led to three goals for the visitors.

Gophers senior forward Blake McLaughlin took positives out of the weekend, even if his team was left unfulfilled.

"I process it as a good weekend,'' McLaughlin said. "Overall, we worked them pretty good Saturday night but didn't get the outcome we wanted. Three or four breakdowns, that's all we gave them. They had good players who capitalized on their opportunities.''

Problem is, the Gophers are running out of opportunities to do their own capitalizing by sweeping opponents. Entering Thursday, they were No. 11 in the PairWise Ratings, the mathematical formula that the NCAA uses to help determine and seed its tournament field. Ohio State, which Minnesota visits in two weeks, was tied for No. 9. Notre Dame was No. 12, and North Dakota, which secured a series split with the Gophers in November, was No. 13. The Gophers figure to battle those three teams for NCAA positioning and possibly a tournament berth.

Compounding Minnesota's situation: The Notre Dame series will be the last that the Gophers have their full roster. Top forwards Ben Meyers and Matthew Knies plus defenseman Brock Faber will miss three February series while playing for Team USA in the Winter Olympics.

The Gophers saw how costly not finishing a sweep can be when they fell 3-2 to Alaska on Jan. 15. The loss dropped Minnesota from No. 8 in the PairWise to No. 12. The Friday win over Michigan moved the Gophers up to No. 10 before the Saturday loss left them at No. 11.

"These next six, eight games are crucial for us for locking in a spot in the Big Ten tournament and hopefully keep climbing in the PairWise,'' McLaughlin said.

Note: The Notre Dame series will not be televised but will be streamed live on Peacock at 6:30 p.m. Friday and 5 p.m. Saturday.