Hockey East Semifinals and Finals Preview

Hockey East Semifinals and Finals Preview

By JD Biagioni

And then there were four. The Hockey East quarterfinals included two favorites cruising to victory and two underdogs keeping their NCAA Tournament hopes alive. Only, the underdogs were Boston College and Boston University, two of college hockey’s blue bloods. Both the Terriers and the Eagles are fighting for auto-bids this weekend at the Garden. If neither hoists the Lamoirello trophy Saturday night, it’ll be the first time that both teams have missed the tournament in the 21st century. 

On the flip side, UMass and Northeastern enter the weekend as Nos. 3 and 6 in the nation respectively, virtual locks to hear their names on Selection Sunday. Wins this weekend would only push each team towards a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. 

I didn’t do so hot on my picks last week, only getting UMass over UNH correct, so hopefully I do a bit better this weekend. 

No. 1 UMass vs. No. 7 Boston College

UMass looked like it was on upset alert right away against a far inferior New Hampshire team. UNH jumped out to a 3-1 lead after 40 minutes in the first game of last weekend’s quarterfinal game. Down 4-2 midway through the third, Bobby Trivigno and Cale Makar registered back-to-back goals to send the game to overtime. It took two overtimes, but UMass came out on top 5-4 and never looked back, blanking UNH 6-0 in the second game to advance to the Garden.

Boston College pulled off the biggest upset of the weekend, knocking off No. 2 Providence and most likely knocking them out of tournament contention. Providence scored only two minutes into the first game, but BC fired back with three goals in a five minute stretch of play. Much like the UMass-UNH game, the underdog led early but fell off late. Providence rattled off three-straight of their own to regain, but BC forced overtime with a late goal by Julius Mattila. Unfortunately for BC, the goal didn’t buy the Eagles much extra time, as Providence’s Brandon Duhaime gave the Friars the series lead 1:31 into overtime. Unlike the UMass-UNH series, the underdog rebounded from a heartbreaking game 1 loss. In BC’s case, the Eagles bounced back and won the next two games to win the series. Both nights Logan Hutsko was the hero. The sophomore from Florida scored 23 seconds into overtime of game 2 to win it for BC and notched the game-winning goal of the deciding game midway through the third. 

BC and UMass met twice during the regular season, and both games came down to the wire. After BC led 2-0 early, Jake McLaughlin scored with two seconds left in regulation to lift the Minutemen over BC 4-3. The next night, BC led early again, but back-to-back UMass power play goals in the first 1:50 of the second gave the Minutemen the lead. BC was able to hang around but could never come back. The Eagles trailed 3-2 late and tilted the ice toward the UMass end in the third, but an empty netter by Jake Gaudet sealed the mid-February weekend sweep for the Minutemen. 

Despite not coming away with a win, BC played UMass as well as any team has all season. And in one game, anything can happen. This game may come down to goaltending. Matt Murray had the better season statistically, but Joseph Woll made multiple key saves against Providence. He’s going to get peppered with shots due to UMass’ stellar offense and BC’s suspect defense. If he can keep the game close, BC’s offense could grind out a win and keep their tournament hopes alive. 

Prediction: Boston College 2 – UMass 1

No. 3 Northeastern vs. No. 5 Boston University

Like the Minutemen, the other favorite at the Garden, Northeastern swept its first round series. The Huskies defeated Maine 2-1 in both games, the first in overtime and the second in regulation. While Northeastern didn’t have the same offensive outburst as UMass, the Huskies held tight defensively and never trailed in the weekend series. Cayden Primeau stopped 74-of-76 shots over the two-game stretch. 

Boston University had to make the 30 minute trek to its Lowell for its 4-5 matchup with the Riverhawks. The Terriers blanked UMass Lowell 3-0 in the first game of the series, but Lowell exploded for 6 goals in game 2 to force a deciding game. Chad Krys, Joel Farabee, and Patrick Harper all scored in the first period of game 3, as BU cruised to a 4-1 win. Farabee, the team’s leading scorer, finished the weekend with 4 goals, including two in the game 2 loss. 

Northeastern’s defense is the best unit in the series, allowing a Hockey East low 73 goals this season. And Primeau finished with the second-lowest GAA of Hockey East goalies (2.05). Statistically, the only area of the game BU has the advantage in is power play percentage, but it’s only slight at that. Again, like UMass-BC, anything can happen. But I’m less confident in an upset here. 

Prediction: Northeastern 3 – Boston University 1

And on Saturday… 

Projected Finals: Northeastern vs. Boston College

Predicted score: Northeastern 3 – BC 2 (BC comes up just short)