New Hampshire defended home ice on Friday night, rallying to tie Boston College 3-3, enough to clinch their third Hockey East regular season title in four years and eighth overall. This was the second time the Wildcats had overcome a three goal deficit to tie the Eagles in as many games this season. BC got revenge on Saturday night in Chestnut Hill in a nearly meaningless game as BC has the second seed locked up.
While UNH and BC were settling the top two seeds, most of the remaining teams were scrambling just to get into the playoffs. Eight of the ten teams make the playoffs and only three teams had locked up a berth going into the weekend and only Providence was eliminated. After the music stopped, Northeastern was the odd team out after dropping two one-goal contests to BU. Merrimack replaced the Huskies as the only change in the eight teams to make the playoffs compared to last season.
BU’s sweep vaulted them into a three-way tie for third with Maine and UMass-Lowell. The Terriers own the tiebreakers over each school and will earn the third seed. Maine, who was swept at home by UMass will host UMass-Lowell in the 4-5 matchup. Merrimack took three of four points from Providence to earn the sixth seed and a date with the Terriers. UMass, the seventh seed, will face Boston College, and Vermont, after a loss and tie to UMass-Lowell, earns the eighth seed and a series with UNH.
Aside from the top two teams, with 36 and 35 points, and Providence with 14, the rest of the league from third (home-ice) to ninth (no playoffs) was only separated by only four points. With the conference very bunched up, anything could happen in the playoffs. This is a very tough conference tournament to handicap. Quarterfinal series are best-of-three and all games are at the higher seeded.
#8 Vermont Catamounts at #1 New Hampshire Wildcats
- Season Series: UNH 5-2, 5-4 (ot), 3-3 (ot) (UNH 1-0-1 at home)
- UNH: 3.63 goals per game (#2 HEA), 2.85 goals allowed per game (#3 HEA), 17.0% power play (#8 HEA), 78.1% penalty kill (#8 HEA)
- UVM: 2.89 gpg (#7 HEA), 3.04 gapg (#4 HEA), 16.5% pp (#10 HEA), 79.1% pk (#6 HEA)
- UNH won the league, but really beat up on the lower half of the league. They had a number of come from behind victories and tied six times in conference play (only Vermont had more with seven). Overall, they got the job done, almost in spite of their special teams. Senior Forward Bobby Butler led the league in goals (21) and points (41).
- Vermont will rely on sophomore goalie Rob Madore, who carried them to the Frozen Four last season. He had another great season with a 2.67 GAA (fourth in HEA) and .906 save percentage (sixth in HEA).
- Outlook: Goalies perhaps have the single biggest effect on a team’s playoff fate than any other single player in major team sports. They seem to be able to take over a series or control a team’s playoff run like no other position and Madore has this pressure squarely on him in this series. The Catamounts need this series to make the NCAA tournament and can do some damage as an eighth seed in the Hockey East playoff if he can overcome their offensive problems. That said, UNH has just enough firepower to slip by Vermont in three tight games.
#7 Massachusetts Minutemen at #2 Boston College Eagles
- Season Series: BC 3-1, 7-1, 2-1 (ot) (BC 1-0-0 at home)
- BC: 3.67 gpg (#1 HEA), 2.26 gapg (#1 HEA), 20.2% pp (#3 HEA), 84.8% pk (#1 HEA)
- UMA: 2.67 gpg (#8 HEA), 3.19 gapg (#7 HEA), 19.0% pp (#6 HEA), 76.8% pk (#10 HEA)
- BC had the best defensive stats in the league by a wide margin highlighted by a near half a goal allowed less than any other team. Junior goalie John Muse had another great season with a 2.27 GAA (second) and .927 SV% (fifth), but he struggled a bit and has ceded the net to freshman Parker Milner recently. Milner spent enough time between the pipes to qualify for the leaderboard and won both major categories: 1.93 GAA, .921 SV%, giving the Eagles the top two goalies in the league. Sophomore forward Cam Atkinson was second in the league in goals (18) and he and junior forward Brian Gibbons tied for fourth in the league in points with 34.
- UMass started the season out alright, but really sputtered at the end of the season until this weekend’s sweep of Maine. They were the odd team out coming into the weekend and with the pressure on, they delivered. Forwards James Marcou (sophomore) and Casey Wellman pace the Minuteman offense. Junior goalie Paul Dainton will need play better than he did in the regular season and UMass’ penalty kill is a concern against this offense.
- Outlook: Interestingly, BC had its toughest game in this series at home. BC scores the most and has the top two goalies in Hockey East, how do they lose? In this series, they do not, BC to sweep. Coach Jerry York’s biggest problem might be who to start in net.
#6 Merrimack Warriors at #3 Boston University Terriers
- Season Series: BU 3-6, 6-4, 6-4 (BU 2-0-0 at home)
- BU: 3.44 gpg (#4 HEA), 3.37 gapg (#10 HEA), 19.6% pp (#4 HEA), 78.2% pk (#7 HEA)
- MC: 3.04 gpg (T-#5 HEA), 3.15 gapg (#6 HEA), 23.5% pp (#2 HEA), 80.1% pk (#5 HEA)
- BU goalie Kieran Millan, unlike fellow sophomore Rob Madore at Vermont, hit a big wall this season. Millan was dominant in leading the Terriers to the league and national championships last season, but rated last among qualifying goalies with a 3.30 GAA this season. Of course, BU lost talent in front of him to the NHL and more importantly, they have played much better lately after a miserable start.
- Merrimack freshman forward Stephane Da Costa has made his presence felt in his rookie season, posting 36 points to lead the Warriors and all freshman (second best rookie had 18), and third in the league overall. Junior forward Chris Barton added 28 points, including 13 goals. Goaltending may be an issue for Merrimack.
- Outlook: BU has momentum going their way as this team has improved from the start of the season. Look for them to try to neutralize Da Costa and the Merrimack power play, but if they fail, Millan will need to step up. BU in three high scoring games.
#5 Massachusetts-Lowell River Hawks at #4 Maine Black Bears
- Season Series: ME 3-1, 8-4, 2-4 (ME 1-1-0 at home)
- ME: 3.52 gpg (#3 HEA), 3.33 gapg (#9 HEA), 27.8% pp (#1 HEA), 81.8% pk (#3 HEA)
- UML: 3.04 gpg (T-#5 HEA), 2.67 gapg (#2 HEA), 19.0% pp (#5 HEA), 80.3% pk (#4 HEA)
- Maine is a Jekyll and Hyde team: great on offense and terrible on defense. Sophomore forward standout Gustav Nyquist built on last season to tie for the scoring lead in the league with 41 points. Fellow sophomore Brian Flynn tied for fourth in scoring with 34 points. This is the second consecutive year this pair has led the team in scoring. Another sophomore, Scott Darling, is in net and improved slightly over last season.
- UMass-Lowell is a defense first team and the second best defensive team in the league. Senior Carter Hutton is the best goalie in the league outside of Chestnut Hill with a 2.35 GAA and .920 SV%. The River Hawks balanced offense features no top 20 scorers. They have three 20 point scorers and three with 10 or more goals.
- Outlook: Maine has stumbled down the stretch, dropping six of eight and giving up 4.50 goals per game over that stretch. Good goaltending, like Hutton has been giving his team, is the key ingredient to a championship and Lowell has it. Hawks in three.
Tags: Boston College, Boston University, College Hockey, Maine, Merrimack College, Northeastern University, Providence College, UMass, UMass-Lowell, University of New Hampshire, Vermont