March 9, 2017 PRINT Bookmark and Share

Hockey East Quarterfinal Preview

by Mike McMahon/Staff Writer (@MikeMcMahonCHN)

The Hockey East playoffs roll on this weekend with four quarterfinal series across the league, some of which could have monumental Pairwise implications.

Providence, which appears to have an NCAA bid locked down, travels to Notre Dame and will face an Irish team that is looking to secure a tournament bid. Elsewhere, Boston College and Vermont will likely both be battling for their NCAA lives, as well as to stay alive in the league playoffs.

No. 4 Notre Dame vs. No. 5 Providence

Providence and Notre Dame will meet in perhaps the most intriguing matchup of the weekend.

The Irish, who are looking to earn their first Hockey East championship in what will be their final season in the league before joining the Big Ten, took three out of four points from the Friars in the regular season. However, Providence head coach Nate Leaman has his team surging at the right time after after a slow start; the Friars have just one loss since Jan. 14, and it was at Notre Dame. In fact, the only two games Providence has not won over that stretch were against the Irish (13-1-1).

The Friars swept Massachusetts last weekend.

“Our series at Notre Dame, the second game was a 3-3 game,” Leaman said. “They’re a great transition team. I wouldn’t say our series two weeks ago was locked down whatsoever, but what makes Notre Dame such a great defensive team is that they possess the puck a large part of the game, and I feel our team can do that as well.”

Notre Dame is 7-3-3 in its last 13 conference games has just one loss since Jan. 29 (at Boston University). Over this stretch, the Irish have seen secondary scoring contribute more than it had in early parts of the season.

“It kind of happened by accident,” said head coach Jeff Jackson. “Our lines got shifted around in late January due to guys being out. Our second line for the first half of the season pretty much got blown up. Those changes allowed younger guys to step up into more important roles, and they jumped in and did a really good job.”

Nationally, the Friars and Irish are close in the Pairwise, but there’s appears to be a definite cliff as far as NCAA probabilities go.

Providence seems like a good bet to make the NCAA Tournament (98 percent in our CHN Pairwise Probability Matrix), while the Irish have qualified in just 58 percent of simulations, meaning they likely need to win this series in order to  advance to the NCAA Tournament.

No. 3 Boston College vs. No. 6 Vermont

Just like Notre Dame and Providence, BC and Vermont played a close regular-season series just a few weeks ago. On Feb. 17-18, the Catamounts traveled to Chestnut Hill, just as they will this weekend, and tied BC twice.

Vermont is coming off a weekend sweep over Maine, where it outscored the Black Bears 10-1 in the two games.

Nationally, both UVM and BC need a win in this series in order to keep their NCAA hopes alive. Vermont qualified for the tournament in 45 percent of our CHN simulations, whereas BC qualified in just 14 percent (6 percent as an at-large bid).

BC is coming off one of its worst February months in recent memory, winning just one game (1-5-2). Since starting the season 10-2-1 in their first 13 games, the Eagles are just 8-12-3. Despite those second-half struggles, BC still earned a share of the league’s regular-season title after a strong first half.

“I’m proud of our guys to get a share of the (regular season) title,” said BC head coach Jerry York. “The year before we had a veteran team and everyone expected to challenge for the league title and a national title. This year, nobody really knew (what to expect).

“(The season) is never linear. But I think that this year we handled the dips and the speed bumps and stayed really tight as a club. Now that’s all behind us, playoffs loom.”

No. 2 Boston University vs. No. 7 Northeastern

Though not to the same extent, Northeastern has put together a similar second-half run to last season, when the Huskies were able to ride that wave all the way to a Hockey East championship.

Northeastern, after last weekend’s sweep over Connecticut, is 11-3-1 in its last 15 games, with two out of those three losses coming against Harvard and Mass.-Lowell.

BU took three out of four points from the Terriers in the regular season, but those games were all the way back in early-November.

“We’re expecting a tough series from BU,” said Northeastern head coach Jim Madigan. “They’re very skilled, we played them early in the year and we know how good they are. We know that we need to play smart, disciplined and execute well going into their building.”

BU head coach David Quinn said that he saw a lot of improvement from his club over the last few weeks of the regular season.

“We want to play smart hockey,” said Quinn. “At times we can get a little too loose and be our own worst enemy, but over the last few weeks I thought we got a lot better with that.”

Nationally, Boston University will make the NCAAs no matter what the outcome this weekend. Even getting swept leaves the Terriers with a better than 99 percent chance of making the tournament as an at-large team. Northeastern, meanwhile, has to win this series in order to keep their NCAA hopes alive, and realistically has to win Hockey East for a second straight year. In our PWR Probability simulations, the Huskies qualified as an at-large bid in just 0.8 percent of scenarios.

No. 1 Mass.-Lowell vs. No. 10 New Hampshire

The Wildcats come into this series as the only road team to win in the opening round of the Hockey East playoffs last week, where they upset No. 7 Merrimack at Lawler Rink.

The Wildcats battled back after losing Game 1 with goaltender Danny Tirone making 88 saves in the final two games.

“Our series with Merrimack was great hockey,” said UNH head coach Dick Umile. “It was a battle. It did an awful lot for a team that was lacking in confidence. It’s as hard as we have competed.”

Meanwhile, Lowell continues to chug along as one of the top teams in Hockey East, this season finishing ahead in a three-way tie breaker to determine seeding after it finished atop the regular-season standings with BU and BC.

Lowell has already eclipsed 20 wins, a mark they’ve hit in each of Norm Bazin’s six seasons, and the River Hawks are locks for their fifth NCAA Tournament appearance in the Bazin era.

Lowell has a pair of wins over UNH this season (2-1 and 8-2) and Bazin said that the focus is always on more than just stopping one line, even if UNH’s top line has one of the top scorers in college hockey.

“We haven’t spent a whole bunch of time talking about the individual players on their team,” he said. “They do have the top scoring forward in the country in (Tyler) Kelleher, we realize that, but we have played a whole host of teams here to lead up to this series that have had top scorers in the country with Northeastern, BU and BC, so I can’t say we spend a whole bunch of time on that. We focus on being good every single shift whether Kelleher is on the ice or not."

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