Thursday, March 08, 2012

Hockey East Tournament Preview

The other March Madness is upon us. The Hockey East tournament starts tonight. The first round is a best of three series played at the superior seed's rink. Next Friday the semifinals will be played at the Garden, and the final will be played Saturday night. The winner of the tournament receives an automatic NCAA berth. And bubble teams like Maine and Merrimack might need that to get into the big tournament. Here are the pairings for this weekend's quarterfinal series:

UMass won the season series against BC 2-1. But they last played January 13th. BC is 12-2-0 since that meeting. They've won 11 in a row and are getting hot at precisely the right time. They've outscored their opponents 48-13 in those 11 wins. They're winning hard games like the Beanpot Final against BU and they're crushing weaker teams like Providence (outscored them 10-0 in two games) and Vermont (outscored them 9-1 in two games). BC will destroy UMass.

These teams played a home-and-home series to end the regular season. They could conceivably play 5 straight games against each other. But I don't think it will go that far. One of the reasons UMass-Lowell was able to earn the #2 seed was because they swept PC in that weekend series. Umass-Lowell isn't an amazing team, but they take care of business and win the games they should win. They'll beat Providence.

BU has had an interesting season. They beat BC in the season series but lost to them in the Beanpot. Entering last weekend, they had a chance to win the Hockey East regular season title, then fell to 3rd when they lost to Northeastern. And they've lost multiple players due to sexual assault allegations. They're 6-6 in their last 12 games, and two of those victories were against lowly Vermont. Even though UNH is hardly red hot right now, I have a feeling like the Wildcats will squeak out a 3 game upset.

These teams have the most to play for in the tournament. Right now Maine appears to be in the NCAA tournament. And Merrimack is just on the outside. Maine can't afford setbacks and Merrimack needs to impress in this tournament to advance to the next one. Maine beat BC and bU twice this year, but was 0-2-1 against Merrimack. Even though the game is up in Orono, I have to give the edge to Merrimack, even though the warriors have struggled down the stretch. MC in 3.

I really can't see BC losing in this tournament. They're red hot, they have experience in big games, and goalie Parker Milner has been playing excellent in his last 12 starts (12-0-0, 14 goals allowed, .955 SV%).

Televised games:
Friday 7:30pm - NBC Sports - BC vs. UMass
Saturday 4:00pm - NESN - BU vs. UNH

The semifinals will be on NESN next Friday, as well on the finals next Saturday.

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