With a share of the league title, as you know, BU had the weekend off as they secured a first-round bye in the Hockey East Playoffs. Next weekend they will be hosting eighth-seeded Northeastern in a best of three series, thanks to a UNH series win over Merrimack least night.
Me being me and having nothing better to do with myself on the first weekend of spring break, I was at Lawler Rink last night for game three of that series. Merrimack cruised to a 4-0 win and it looked almost certain that the Warriors would be coming to town next weekend. UNH had other plans.
The Wild Cats flipped the score around in game two, winning by an identical 4-0 score and advanced to play top-seeded Lowell with a 5-2 win last night. UNH struck early and took advantage so some brutal Merrimack turnovers to complete the comeback of an identical first round matchup from a year ago.
Elsewhere around the league, it was all chalk. Vermont swept Maine with two non-competitive games, Providence did the same over UMass and Northeastern rolled over the other “Husky” team in two games.
Outside the Merrimack vs UNH series (7 vs 10), the first round was a total snooze-fest, begging the question, why even have the first round?
Hockey East used to do it right when the league had only ten teams. The top eight made the Quarterfinals with the top four hosting a best of three series and the bottom two broke out the Lemon Pledge and dusted off their Callaway’s.
It was a phenomenal system that led to real drama in the last weekend of the season. Take 2004 for example. BU had to win at UNH on the final day of the year to claim the eighth spot in the tournament. In thrilling fashion, David van der Guilk shoveled home a game winner in overtime to land BU in the tournament. A loss or tie would have had Merrimack as the eighth and final seed. BU went on to upset top-seed Boston College in the Quarterfinals and fell to Maine 1-0 in the Semis.
Sorry, but if you finish ninth in the standings, you don’t deserve to make the playoffs. It completely devalues the regular season.
Moving on to a little preview of Northeastern…
Even though they are technically a lower seed and BU took three of four points vs NU opposed to being swept by Merrimack, I still think that NU is the tougher matchup for the Terriers.
The Huskies have one of the nation’s best power play units in the country at 28.95% and Zach Aston-Reese is the nation’s leading scorer with 62 points.
On the plus side, since NU’s pairwise is nine ticks higher than Merrimack at 21, two wins against the Huskies could potentially help more than two wins over Merrimack in keeping BU in the East come selection Sunday.
A full preview will be up Friday
Around The League - Predictions
Unlike the opening round, the Quarterfinals do have some intriguing matchups. Lowell-UNH being the outlier, I wouldn’t be surprised if the other three series go three games.
Looking first at 3. BC vs 6. Vermont, both teams are right on the bubble for the NCAA tournament. BC, despite tying for the league title, is on the outside looking in with a current PWR of 19. Vermont is right on the cutline at 15. Both may have to win Hockey East to get and without a doubt have to make the Garden to have any shot at the National Tournament. Three weeks ago, the two teams played to back to back ties at Conte. I see the Cats in three. BC is just going in the wrong direction at this point.
Moving to Notre Dame and Providence. Again, both teams are on the bubble of the NCAA’s. Providence should make it as they currently sit at 11, but ND is certainly not a lock at 13. The Irish host this best of three series in the 4vs5 matchup. Two weeks ago Notre Dame took three points from the Friars in South Bend and looked strong against BU. Cal Peterson gives ND a huge edge in net, I’m taking the Irish in three.
1. Lowell vs 10. UNH will not be a series. Lowell is once again on a roll going into the Hockey East tournament and currently is riding a seven-game win streak that dates back to their loss at BU on January 28th. Lowell in a sweep and it could be the final two games for Dick Umile at UNH.
Hate doing BU predictions, but I think this series will look a lot like the PC-ND one. BU has a huge advantage in net with Jake Oettinger over Ryan Ruck and with the potential of getting Brandon Hickey back on defense, I think that is enough to slow down the NU offense. BU wins game one and three.