Road to TD Garden: The (Quarter) Final Push

BOSTON — With Boston College having locked up its 12th Hockey East regular season title, the post-season can officially begin with the quarterfinal round this weekend.

Three series will commence on Friday evening and follow the traditional three-day schedule. The exception is at UMass-Lowell because of a Tsongas Center schedule conflict.

Coach Speak (Tuesday’s Media Teleconference) | Quarterfinal Central (Schedules & Stats)

No. 8 Massachusetts (13-16-5, 9-14-4) at No. 1 Boston College (25-10-1, 19-7-1)
UMass won two of the three games played between the teams this season, both of came at Mullins Center while the Eagles were ranked No. 1 in the nation. This weekend’s series at Kelley Rink will mark the third-straight quarterfinal between the teams and BC will look to make it two in a row as the top seed.

Thanks to a 5-1 win against Merrimack on Friday and Northeastern’s loss at Boston University, the Minutemen captured the final playoff spot and eliminated the Huskies from post-season contention on the second-to-last night of the regular season.

The Eagles, ranked first in the country in both national polls, swept Vermont to capture the league title for the second-straight season. Junior Parker Milner was named Hockey East co-Defensive Player of the Week as he stopped 55 of the 56 shots he faced against Vermont, including a 26-save performance in Saturday’s 4-0 shutout.

Entering its tenth quarterfinal series in as many years, the Minutemen are led by sophomore Michael Pereira and his 33 points. UMass has sworn in three goaltenders this season, including freshman Kevin Boyle, who was named league Rookie of the Week for his 25-save performance on Friday.

  • Prediction Time: The Eagles are in the midst of an 11-game winning streak and have way too much firepower with the likes of senior Barry Almeida and junior Chris Kreider. With that said, give me BC in a two-game sweep for its eighth-straight trip to TD Garden.

No. 7 Providence (12-18-4, 10-14-3) at No. 2 UMass-Lowell (22-10-1, 17-9-1)
The River Hawks captured two of the three regular-season meetings against Providence, including a home-and-home sweep last weekend. Under Coach of the Year favorite Norm Bazin, UML will be hosting a first-round playoff set for the first time since defeating Northeastern in three games as a No. 4 seed back in 2002.

PC clinched its first Hockey East playoff spot since 2008 and will play the River Hawks for the first time since 1997.

The Friars finished the season a single point ahead of the eighth-place tie between Northeastern and UMass, winning ten league games for a six-win improvement in Nate Leaman’s first season as head coach. Led by Ross Mauermann’s 23 points, the Friar rookie class has accounted for 37 percent of the team’s goal scoring this season.

Sophomore Joseph Pendenza scored two goals and five total points, including two game-winning assists against PC over the weekend, earning conference Player of the Week honors. Rookie of the Year clubhouse leader Scott Wilson has had a record season, leading his team by potting 15 goals and 35 points to lead all league freshmen.

  • Prediction Time: The nation’s ninth-ranked offense should not have much trouble against the nation’s tenth-worst defense. I predict UML to advance to its 14th semifinal and first since 2009 in another sweep.

No. 6 New Hampshire (14-17-3, 11-14-2) at No. 3 Boston University (21-12-1, 17-9-1)
The Wildcats will be looking to avenge a regular-season sweep against the Terriers, which saw BU hold a combined 11-2 advantage. BU and UNH have matched up just once in the quarterfinals back in 1986 — a two-game sweep for the Terriers.

The No. 6-ranked Terriers are coming off a weekend split with playoff-ousted Northeastern, including a 5-4 overtime loss on Saturday that killed BU’s chances for a top-two spot. The loss shattered their ten-game Hockey East road winning, which was the longest in the conference since Maine went undefeated in 1992-93.

Junior Alex Chiasson leads the team with 38 points on the strength of 12 goals, while sophomore Adam Clendening leads all of Hockey East with 28 points from the blue line. Fellow sophomore Garrett Noonan’s 14 goals are second on the team to junior forward Wade Megan (18), which ranks second in the nation amongst defensemen.

Rookie goaltender Casey DeSmith made 28 saves, but the Wildcats dropped their lone game of the week by a 1-0 score at arch-rival Maine on Saturday. Despite the loss, the Wildcats maintained the sixth seed with a pair of Providence losses to UML.

The loss marked the first time UNH was shutout since Oct. 14, 2011 in a 4-0 loss at Northeastern, forcing the Wildcats on the road for the quarterfinals for the first time in 16 seasons.

DeSmith, a native of nearby Rochester, N.H., is 5-3-1 with a 2.09 goals-against average since February. He took over the starting job from senior Matt DiGirolamo earlier in the season and has compiled a strong freshman campaign, which includes road wins at Merrimack, Providence, and UMass.

On the offensive side, there are few more prolific than senior Stevie Moses, who leads the team with 21 goals and 34 points. Rookie Grayson Downing’s nine goals are second to Moses for the Wildcats.

  • Prediction Time: Despite a Friday win against Northeastern on Senior Night, the Terriers have not enjoyed much home cooking of late with four losses in five games. I think the Wildcats can continue their strong finish (5-3-1) with one win in this series, but no more. Terriers in three.

No. 5 Merrimack (17-10-7, 13-9-5) at No. 4 Maine (20-11-3, 15-10-2)
In a rematch of last year’s exciting two-game quarterfinal at Lawler Arena, the Warriors will take this year’s playoff tussle on the road to Alfond Arena after a 2-0-1 sweep this regular season.

Merrimack won at Alfond Arena for the first time in 24 games, 2-1 in the season opener back on Oct. 7, 2011.

If Merrimack wants its second-straight NCAA Tournament berth, it needs to capture the series in Orono in order to jump back into national PairWise contention. The Warriors have achieved the second-most wins in the school’s Division I history this season with 17, trailing only last year’s 25-win campaign.

MC split a weekend series with UMass last weekend, including a 5-3 win on Saturday to beat the Minutemen at home for a sixth time in a row.

The Black Bears boast the top-three scoring players in Hockey East, including seniors Spencer Abbott (56) and Brian Flynn (45). In Maine’s 1-0 win, sophomore Dan Sullivan made 32 saves to earn co-Defensive Player of the Week honors with Parker Milner.

The win was Maine’s 20th of the season, marking the first time since 2006-07 that it has reached that plateau. Sophomore Brice O’Connor scored the lone goal of the game for Maine and marked just the second of his career.

Senior Ryan Flanigan is the leader of a very balanced Warrior attack, sporting 28 points. Classmate Joe Cannata is the go-to man in goal, leading the league with 743 saves in conference games.

  • Prediction Time: Home-ice advantage will have an effect in this one and with Maine’s firepower, I think they win the series in three hard-fought games and go to the Garden for the 19th time.
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