Tonight the Hockey East playoffs will continue as the top four teams from the quarterfinals take their talents to the TD Garden in Boston. UMass Lowell, who lost in the championship to Boston University last season, faces defending national champion Providence, while regular season champion Boston College faces red-hot Northeastern.
Lowell is led by netminder Kevin Boyle who yesterday was named the Hockey East co-player of the year. Boyle was cut from the UMass Amherst roster at the end of 2013, but has certainly found a role with the River Hawks. Lowell’s 1.81 goals against average is first in the country. However, Boyle has allowed 27 goals in eight games against the Friars as a member of the River Hawks and Minutemen.
The River Hawks have won the league’s championship in 2013 and 2014, with a brief hiatus from being trophy holder with a loss to BU last year.
Joe Gambardella stepped up in the BU series with two goals and an assist, playing on the same line as leading scorer CJ Smith.
Lowell and Providence has emerged as sort of rivals, matching up in the Hockey East playoffs in 2012-2013 and 2013-2014. The key for the River Hawks will be continuing to play their style of low scoring, tough hockey.
The defending champions, Providence is coming off of a dominant showing against Merrimack. The Friars have lost just three games in Hockey East all season, and like Lowell, are carried by their goaltender. In a 10 game winning streak for Providence, goaltender Nick Ellis has a 1.06 goals against average.
The Friars are great at many things; they are second in the conference in goals per game and goals allowed, and third in penalty kill percentage.
It was announced earlier this week that defenseman Jake Walman would miss the remainder of the season as he undergoes surgery after reinjuring himself in February. It’s a tough blow for the defense of the Friars, but Ellis and the rest of the team has played tremendous lately to keep the puck out of the net.
The last time the Friars played at the TD Garden, it was a national championship victory over Boston University. Now the third-ranked team in the nation has a chance to seal its way back into post season hockey. The last Hockey East championship win for Providence was in 1996.
The Eagles come into the tournament as the regular season Hockey East title holder, but it took overtime in game three to defeat the Vermont Catamounts. There were times in the quarterfinal series where the Eagles struggled, and overlooking Northeastern would be a mistake.
BC head coach Jerry York is looking for his tenth Hockey East title with the Eagles. BC has been one of the more dominant teams in Hockey East and in the country all season.
Colin White was named the Hockey East all-rookie team on Thursday, and goaltender Thatcher Demko named to the conference’s second team. White was also named the conference’s rookie of the year.
The Eagles average nearly four goals per game, and, led by Ryan Fitzgerald, are able to score from almost every end of the ice. With a Beanpot title and a regular season title already under their belts, the conference title is the next on Boston College’s list.
Without a win since 1988, the Huskies have the longest championship drought of all the teams in the tournament this season.
The Huskies are 18-1-3 after starting the season with just two wins. The Huskies seemed to turn things around right when conference play begin, and a lot of it has to do with the play of freshman goaltender Ryan Ruck.
Northeastern went to Notre Dame, the third seed in the tournament, and won both games, including a 6-4 win in game two of the series. The Huskies are the only road team to advance to the TD Garden.
Kevin Roy, one of the more talented offensive players on the Huskies, missed a portion of the season with injury but his return has been a big reason for the team’s success. However, it has been the fourth line, led by Zach Anton-Reese.
This is the first time the Huskies have made the conference tournament since the 2011 season when they lost to Boston College. Northeastern, ranked at #14 and entering those rankings for the first time this season, could use this tournament as a way to force its way into the NCAA tournament with the selection being made on Sunday night.