Hockey East Playoff Preview

For the first time in history, someone other than Boston College, Boston University, Maine or New Hampshire is seeded No. 1, heading into the Hockey East playoffs this weekend. UMass-Lowell won its first ever regular season title, since joining the conference in 1984. The team was figured to finish close to the top, when the season started. However, it wasn’t envisioned that they would finish on the top.

Heading into the weekend, UMass-Lowell, Boston College, Providence and Boston University will be hosting quarterfinal games. The River Hawks welcome eighth place, Maine. The Eagles welcome seventh place, Vermont. The Friars welcome sixth place, New Hampshire and the Terriers welcome fifth place Merrimack College.

No. 8 Maine (11-17-8, 7-12-8 HEA) at No. 1 Massachusetts-Lowell (22-10-2, 16-9-2 HEA)

For the second straight year, Norm Bazin has lead his UMass-Lowell River Hawks to home ice advantage in the first round. Last year, the River Hawks hosted Providence College and lost in three games. This year, the River Hawks welcome Maine into the Tsongas Center. Maine has faced UMass-Lowell 15 times during the playoffs, over the years and the Black Bears have gone, 14-1 in those games. After slow starts, both schools turned it on, UMass-Lowell more than Maine, and improved their positioning in the Hockey East standings. It will be a tough series, and both teams believe they can win. However, UMass-Lowell has a better chance of defeating this Black Bears team.

Season series: Maine won, 2-1-0
Quarterfinals series: Thursday, Friday and Sunday (if necessary) 

No. 7 Vermont (11-17-6, 8-13-6 HEA) at No. 2 Boston College (20-10-4, 15-9-3 HEA)

These two teams faced off against each other on the last weekend of the season. The teams tied on Friday night and Boston College won big time on Saturday night, 7-2. For the third straight year, two teams that finished the season against each other, faced off in the first round of the playoffs. Each of the seasons, the lower seed moved on. After a rough 2011-12 season, the Catamounts want to keep that streak going. Boston College was picked to win the NCAA Championship in most preseason predictions. After a great start, the Eagles have come back to earth and will have a tough fight ahead of them this weekend when the welcome Vermont into Conte Forum.

Season series: Boston College won, 2-0-1
Quarterfinals series: Friday, Saturday and Sunday (if necessary) 

No. 6 Merrimack (15-15-6, 13-11-3 HEA) at No. 3 Boston University (18-15-2, 15-10-2 HEA)

Merrimack College had a slow start, great middle, and ugly finish to this season. The Warriors sat in first place during the middle part of the season, but saw themselves fall back to sixth as the season came to a close. On the other side, Boston University has had a rough second half of the season and are not playing their best hockey. Monday morning, Boston University head coach, Jack Parker announced his intentions to retire, following the season. This news may motivate the Terriers to go on a run. Merrimack College visits the Boston University this weekend, a Terriers team they struggled against all season long.

Season series: Boston University won, 3-0-0
Quarterfinals series: Friday, Saturday and Sunday (if necessary) 

No. 5 New Hampshire (18-9-7, 13-8-6 HEA) at No. 4 Providence (15-12-7, 13-8-6 HEA)

Likely the most even and hardest match-ups in the quarterfinals, Providence College versus New Hampshire. The Wildcats sat in first place for good portion of the season, before seeing themselves fall out of the top four and home ice advantage. After a rough weekend against Maine, the Wildcats are hoping to rebound and beat Providence in their home arena. Providence sat in prime position to take the season title, if they beat UMass-Lowell, last Saturday night. The loss pushed them back to fourth, but still in a spot to get home ice. The Friars will heavily rely on rookie goaltender, Jon Gillies in this series.

Season series: Providence won, 2-0-1
Quarterfinals series: Friday, Saturday and Sunday (if necessary) 

Winners will advance to the TD Garden in Boston, Mass. next weekend.

Justin Soderberg is a Hockey East writer for InsideHockey.com. Follow him on Twitter, ‘Like’ him on Facebook and add him to your network on Google. In addition, Justin covers the UMass-Lowell River Hawks at viewfrom123.com.

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