Hockey East Semi Finals Preview: Northeastern, Providence on Fire

The Hockey East semi finals and championship at the TD Garden kick off this Friday as four teams have advanced from this past weekend’s quarterfinals. Boston College, Providence, UMass Lowell, and Northeastern all moved on, and both series have intriguing storylines. Two teams, Providence and Northeastern, have been red-hot, while Boston College and Lowell have been two of the strongest teams in the nation all season.

Boston College vs Northeastern

Northeastern is the hottest team in the nation and has been for a while. After starting its season 2-12-3, the Huskies have taken off to finish out 18-1-2 and are currently on an 11 game winning streak. The Huskies had to travel to Indiana to face a rested Notre Dame team, but it was Northeastern that won both games, including a six goal output in game two.

The Huskies emerged this season when Ryan Ruck settled down as the team’s starting goaltender and Kevin Roy came back from injury. Northeastern struggled between the pipes and defensivley for much of the first of the season and it wasn’t until it came together that the Huskies were able to become one of the more dangerous teams in the country to face.

Boston College was able to put away Vermont in its quarterfinal series, but it took going to overtime in game three. The Eagles were the only team that advanced that had to play the entire series to move on. It felt like at times throughout the series that Boston College overlooked Vermont and were surprised by how well the Catamounts played, and against a team like Northeastern, the Eagles won’t do that.

The Eagles captured their fourth Hockey East regular season title over the past six seasons and have been one of the dominant teams in the conference for years. BC is 6-1-0 in the playoffs against Northeastern historically, and in this regular season, BC had one win and the teams tied in another. That two game set was the first before Northeastern went on its streak.

Providence vs UMass Lowell

Other than the Huskies, Providence is the hottest team in the conference (and maybe in the nation) with ten straight victories. The Friars made quick work of the Merrimack Warriors in the first round and now draw a matchup of UMass Lowell.

The River Hawks hosted Boston University and were impressive in a sweep of the Terriers, including a dominant 5-0 showing in the second game of the series. Led by goaltender Kevin Boyle, who picked up his seventh shutout of the season, the River Hawks defense has been stellar all year, and Lowell didn’t give BU any space to work with in the two game set. Boyle, a goaltender who was cut by UMass Amherst after the 2013 season, transferred to Lowell where he has emerged as one of the best goaltenders in the country.

Lowell was also able to find the back of the net against BU, and in the second game Connor LaCouvee replaced Sean Maguire in net for the Terriers. The River Hawks won’t face that kind of opposing instability in this series, as Nick Ellis has been just about the hottest goalie in the nation for the Friars with a 1.06 goals against average over the course of the ten game winning streak.

Joe Gambardella came alive in the series with two goals, playing on the line of CJ Smith, the team’s leading point getter, and the River Hawk offense played as well as it has all season.

This is the seventh time the two teams have faced each other in the playoffs, and the second semi final match up, and the River Hawks are 6-3-1 in those games.

Lowell and Providence split the season series, both teams winning their home contest. The River Hawks are the only team to return to the Hockey East semi finals from last season, as they fell to BU in the championship contest.