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Hockey East picks – March 7-8

Just when I began getting cocky, karma put me back in my place last week.

Jim last week: 4-4-1
Jim to-date: 147-66-28 (.668)
Dave to-date: 123-65-24 (.637)

Friday, March 7

#10 Massachusetts at #7 Vermont
Jim’s pick: I think that Vermont has enough of the depth at each position to win this game and advance.
UVM 4, UMass 2

Saturday, March 8

#11 Merrimack at #6 Maine
Jim’s pick: If there was one upset to pick, I think this is it given how Maine finished its season, but I still think this team has the talent to advance.
Maine 3, MC 2

#9 Boston University at # 8 Notre Dame
Jim’s pick: Another close one, but I just don’t see the Irish losing at home.
ND 2, BU 1

Notre Dame, Providence surging into playoffs; Maine, Northeastern not so much

Notre Dame upsets No. 1 Boston College while Providence wins two at Maine. These two teams are playing their best hockey heading into the playoffs. That leads the three things I learned this week:

1. Irish upset Eagles to take six-game unbeaten streak into playoffs

Notre Dame pulled off an impressive upset of the top-seeded Eagles on Saturday, winning 2-1 in overtime at Kelley Rink. And even though the win didn’t do anything to move the Irish up in the standings, the Irish enter the playoffs Hockey East’s hottest teams. Notre Dame will host Boston University in next weekend’s single elimination play-in round having allowed just a single goal in the last four games, all wins. It is a long road ahead for the Irish, needing to win this weekend, then upset one of the league’s top teams in the quarterfinals just to reach the TD Garden. But remember one thing: Notre Dame would have been the defending champions if the CCHA still existed, so this is a team that knows how to play down the stretch.

2. Providence back on track with bye into quarterfinals

You had to be concerned about the Friars heading down the stretch. A five-game winless skid put home ice and even a bye for the first round in extreme jeopardy with two weeks remaining. But four wins to end the season, including a two-game sweep at Maine this past weekend makes Providence one of the most dangerous teams heading into the playoffs. A big difference has the return of the Providence offense. Scoring just five goals in the five-game slump, the Friars potted 13 goals in the four wins to end the season. With Jon Gillies in net, you have to believe that a three-plus goals per game pace should be enough for this Friars team to win.

3. Maine, Northeastern have cause for concern heading into playoffs

Two of this season’s best stories – Northeastern and Maine – were both swept this weekend, each controlling destiny for both home ice and a first-round bye. The Huskies ended up backing into a bye while Maine will host a play-in game next weekend and neither team will have the confines of home in the league quarterfinals. Northeastern ended the season 3-6-1 in its final 10, while Maine were only a tad better down the stretch, 4-5-1 in its last 10. Both will need to right the ship or seasons that at one point had great promise could end prematurely over the next two weekends.

 

Hockey East picks – Feb. 28-Mar. 1

Somehow Dave’s non-participation in picks has brought out the best in me. A near-perfect week last weekend.

Jim last week: 8-0-2
Jim to date: 143-62-27 (.674)
Date to date: 123-65-24 (.637)

Friday, February 28

Northeastern at Boston University
Jim’s pick: The Huskies come into Parker Rink and spoil Jack Parker Night.
NU 4, BU 2

New Hampshire at Merrimack
Jim’s pick: UNH needs wins to have a shot at home ice and wins the Wildcats will get.
UNH 3, MC 2

Providence at Maine
Jim’s pick: This might be the best series of the weekend with the most on the line. First-round byes, home ice, NCAA footing all up for grabs in Orono.
Maine 3, PC 2

Massachusetts-Lowell at Vermont
Jim’s pick: This series has split written all over it. I just can’t figure out which team wins which night.
UML 3, UVM 2

Saturday, March 1

Notre Dame at Boston College
Jim’s pick: It was a great game when these two met at Fenway. Expect nothing different.
BC 4, ND 3

New Hampshire at Merrimack
Jim’s pick: The Wildcats complete a difficult – and much needed – road sweep.
UNH 4, MC 3

Providence at Maine
Jim’s pick: Friars earn the split to make the long ride back more pleasant.
PC 3, Maine 2

Boston University at Northeastern
Jim’s pick: Huskies sweep and wrap up home ice.
NU 5, BU 2

Massachusetts-Lowell at Vermont
Jim’s pick: My toughest pick of the week, but I have to take Vermont on Senior Night.
UVM 3, UML 2 (OT)

Tightning races, Vermont earns overdue wins and a tie that feels like a win

The fact that Boston College clinched the regular season title a night after Valentine’s Day hardly means that there won’t be excitement in Hockey East in the final weekend of the regular season. That is one of three things I learned this weekend in Hockey East:

1. League races from two through eight incredibly tight

There has been little settled in the Hockey East playoff picture. Boston College is the top seed in the tournament and Massachusetts, Boston University and Merrimack will be hitting the road for the single-elimination first round. Everything else is relatively up in the air.

Massachusetts-Lowell and Northeastern both will avoid the opening round but neither has clinched home ice. Because Notre Dame has only one game remaining, it can only get as high as sixth place and thus will be hosting a first-round game. Vermont can finish from third to eighth. Every other team in that mix (Lowell, Northeastern, Maine, New Hampshire, Providence) can finish as high as second place. Look forward to a crazy couple of nights of scoreboard/standings watching next weekend.

2. Vermont seniors earn first wins at Merrimack

Every now and again, we are provided with statistical abnormalities. Such was the case heading into this weekend’s Vermont-Merrimack series given that the Catamounts hadn’t won at Lawler Arena since Feb. 14, 2009, a season in which Vermont reached the Frozen Four. The Cats earned a 4-1 victory behind Mario Puskarich’s natural hat trick in the third period. Ending another long streak, it was the first hat trick by a Vermont player since Oct. 8, 2010. The Catamounts finished off the weekend sweep the next night with a 4-3 victory.

3. Lowell’s improbable tie vs. Eagles ‘felt like a win’

If there is one team you don’t want to fall behind to these days, it’s Boston College. The No. 1 Eagles held the often-potent Lowell offense off the board for five periods of hockey this weekend. But an explosive third period on Saturday at home for the River Hawks earned them a point. Trailing 2-0, Lowell scored twice in a span of 2:27 to tie the game, a welcome sight to the record 7,649 fans that packed the Tsongas Center. Granted, getting only one point from the weekend loosens Lowell’s grip on the second seed in the playoffs, but as coach Norm Bazin said on Saturday night, that was a tie that “felt like a win.”

Hockey East picks – Feb. 21-22

With Dave on injured reserve, I went ahead and had my best week of the year to take a big lead in percentage points.

Jim last week: 8-1-1
Jim to date: 135-62-25 (.664)
Date to date: 123-65-24 (.637)

Friday, Feb. 21

Massachusetts-Lowell at Boston College
Jim’s pick: This is by far the most difficult series to pick. But being that Friday is at Boston College, I’m going with the home team.
BC 4, UML 2

Vermont at Merrimack
Jim’s pick: Another difficult series to pick, but I think that Vermont should have the upper hand here.
UVM 3, MC 1

Boston University at Notre Dame
Jim’s pick: Notre Dame took three points last weekend and you have to believe they will take four at home.
ND 4, BU 1

Maine at Northeastern
Jim’s pick: Wow, I didn’t realize how difficult a week this is to pick. Again, home ice matters here.
NU 3, Maine 2

Massachusetts at Providence
Jim’s pick: I think it’s about time Providence gets back to the winner’s circle.
PC 4, UMass 2

Saturday, Feb. 22

Vermont at Merrimack
Jim’s pick: I don’t pick a lot of road sweeps in Hockey East, but I think Vermont can pull it off.
UVM 2, MC 1

Boston University at Notre Dame
Jim’s pick: The Irish play themselves back to playoff relevance.
ND 5, BU 3

Maine at Northeastern
Jim’s pick: If Maine were a better road team, I’d be picking a split. Reality is it is not.
NU 3, Maine 2

Providence at Massachusetts
Jim’s pick: Even on the road, Friars complete a much-needed weekend sweep.
PC 4, UMass 2

Boston College at Massachusetts-Lowell
Jim’s pick: It’s hard to think about picking against BC, but this is my upset of the week.
UML 3, BC 2 (OT)

 

Crowning a champ, 20 wins and the Irish on the move

Last Monday night, Boston College won its fifth straight Beanpot. But that wasn’t the only trophy the Eagles received last week. That leads off the three things I learned this week:

1. Boston College clinches regular-season title

So it seems a little bit early in the calendar, but the Hockey East regular season trophy is already decided. Boston College put together such an impressive regular season run in league play, just a single loss to date, that the Eagles are on pace for a record-setting Hockey East season. Should the Eagles win the remainder of its games, it will tie Maine’s campaign from 1992-93 for the least losses in league play. That Maine team went 22-1-1 in league play. BC is on pace to be able to post an 18-1-1 mark this season.

2. River Hawks reach 20 for third straight season

Plenty has been made of what Massachusetts-Lowell head coach Norm Bazin has done to turn around the River Hawks program. Last Friday, his team reached another significant milestone, beating Massachusetts to earn the team’s 20th victory of the season. It’s the first time in the school’s program history that the club has put forth 20 wins in three straight seasons, definitely deserving of a tip of the cap.

And by the way, if you missed how Lowell earned that victory over the Minutemen, it is worth it to take a second and watch the dramatic ending. You can do so by clicking here.

3. Three-point weekend brings Notre Dame into the thick of things

All season, folks have been waiting for Notre Dame to make some sort of move up the Hockey East standings. Well, three points on the road at Providence did just that as the Irish are now in the thick of the key Hockey East playoff races. Notre Dame still sits in seventh place with 14 points. But they are just two points behind sixth-place Providence and four points in back of fifth-place New Hampshire, one of the enviable places in the standings as the top five teams will avoid a first-round play-in game. It’s still an uphill climb for the Irish with only three games remaining (Providence has a game-in-hand on Notre Dame, a distinct advantage). If anything, Notre Dame’s successful weekend has put the team in solid position to remain at home in the opening round, now sitting three points ahead of ninth place Massachusetts.

Hockey East picks – Feb. 14-15

So last week Dave, in his words, pulled the goalie. While his effort gained him some ground on me, it was only one game. Thus, with no more picking left for his this season (he had successful season-ending open-heart surgery on Tuesday, for those who haven’t been following along), I take the title for game picked against one another.

To keep things interesting, though, I will spend the remainder of the season trying to finish with a better winning percentage than Dave. His is .637, which means I have to get about two out of every thing games right to cruise to victory. Last week, I was a whopping 4-6-1, which means this isn’t going to be as easy as it seems.

Dave last week: 5-5-1
Jim last week: 4-6-1
Dave to date: 123-65-24 (.637)
Jim to date: 127-61-24 (.656)

Friday, February 14

Merrimack at Maine
Jim’s pick: No way I am picking against Maine at Alfond.
Maine 4, MC 1

Notre Dame at Providence
Jim’s pick: Neither team has played great hockey of late, but I can’t see Providence losing at home after Tuesday’s home loss vs. UConn.
PC 3, ND 2

Massachusetts at Massachusetts-Lowell
Jim’s pick: No reason to bet against the River Hawks seeing as they’ve beaten the Minutemen twice this season.
UML 5, UMass 2

Boston University at New Hampshire
Jim’s pick: Both teams are smarting after losses, so I’m going with home ice.
UNH 4, BU 3

Boston College at Vermont
Jim’s pick: There is something I love about Vermont right now, but I learned my lesson picking against BC on Monday.
BC 4, UVM 2

Saturday, February 15

New Hampshire at Boston University
Jim’s pick: UNH is the better team on paper, but BU better be inspired to play great hockey on Jack Parker night.
BU 3, UNH 2

Merrimack at Maine
Jim’s pick: Maine finished off the sweep easily.
Maine 5, MC 2

Notre Dame at Providence
Jim’s pick: I think the Irish can earn the split again this weekend.
ND 4, PC 2

Northeastern at Massachusetts
Jim’s pick: Though UMass handed NU and ugly loss last weekend, having Friday night off will make a difference for the Huskies.
NU 3, UMass 1

Boston College at Vermont
Jim’s pick: Again, just not picking against the red-hot Eagles team.
BC 3, UVM 2

Notre Dame has life, BU is better and UVM remains hot away from home

Notre Dame was just about a minute away from another lost weekend in Hockey East play. But then Bryan Rust saved the day, which leads the three things I learned this weekend.

1. Don’t write Notre Dame’s obituary yet

This hasn’t exactly been a welcome with open arms to Hockey East thus far for the Fighting Irish. And this past weekend had all the earmarks of being another difficult, frustrating weekend. Notre Dame hosted Maine, a team that entered the weekend without a road win. Friday night, the Irish spotted Maine a 2-0 lead. But what looked like back-to-back extra attacker goals had seemingly drawn ND even with about half a minute remaining. A controversial video review ended up negating the goal (I’ll admit, I haven’t seen the no-goal yet, so I can’t comment on the call) and making the Irish a loser for the third straight league game.

On Saturday, it seemed like the Irish were again headed for another 2-1 loss until Bryan Rust scored not once, but twice in 24 seconds to steal victory from the jaws of defeat. The win may breathe some new life into Notre Dame which is in danger of having to head on the road for a single-elimination opening round playoff game in Hockey East.

2. BU seems remarkably improved

The wins haven’t come BU’s way of late, winless (0-2-2) in its last four. But this BU team is playing much better hockey of late, taking BC to the wire in last Monday’s Beanpot before earning a hard-fought tie against a red-hot Massachusetts-Lowell team. What seems most improved for the Terriers is the team’s defensive play. Despite allowing 32 and 35 shots, respectively, over the last two games, the number of grade ‘A’ chances seem significantly reduced, bringing some relief to goaltenders Matt O’Connor and Sean Maguire, both of whom have been BU’s best players since returning from the holiday break.

3. Vermont playing role of road warriors

The Vermont Catamounts played some impressive hockey during a 9-game homestand that wraparound around the holiday break. But when you play nine-in-a-row at home, there is a stark reality that you’ll likely have to play a long road-swing. That eight-game road trip ended Saturday night in style as the Catamounts finished off a weekend sweep of New Hampshire to move into solo seventh place but only three points behind third place Northeastern. Vermont won four of its last five games on the road trip and went 4-2-0 in Hockey East on the swing. If there is any team to keep an eye on in the bottom half of the standings right now, it’s Vermont.

Hockey East picks: Feb. 7-11

Last week, I gained another game on the old man. And seeing as this is his last week picking before season ending surgery, I’m curious to see whether or not Dave will go completely the opposite of me in hopes I tank so he can improve his winning percentage.

(Dave’s special note: I’m loathe to intrude on Jim’s introduction, but since this is my swan song for a while, I have to say thanks to all the friends and fans who’ve sent me their support. You all are the best. Thank you!)

Dave last week: 5-2-1
Jim last week: 6-1-1
Dave’s record-to-date: 119-65-23
Jim’s record-to-date: 124-60-23

Here are this week’s picks:

Friday, Feb. 7

Merrimack at Boston College
Jim’s pick: Let’s start with the fact that Merrimack is on the road. Add in the fact that the opponent is BC. This is a slam dunk.
BC 5, MC 2
Dave’s pick: I’m down by five and have to pull my goalie, but not against a team that hasn’t lost since November.
BC 5, MC 2

Massachusetts-Lowell at Boston University
Jim’s pick: BU put forth an impressive effort in the Beanpot. But having watched the way Lowell manhandled them territorially three weeks ago, this one is all River Hawks.
UML 4, BU 1
Dave’s pick: Again, I have to agree, although I think it’ll be closer than Jim thinks. BU will play well, but not well enough to win.
UML 3, BU 2

Maine at Notre Dame
Jim’s pick: Given the way Maine has played away from home, I can’t pick the Black Bears at all this weekend.
ND 3, Maine 2
Dave’s pick: Here’s a pull-the-goalie pick. I suspect Maine will pick up its first road win this weekend, and was hoping Jim picked a split so I could go in the opposite direction. But he didn’t cooperate, so I’m forced to pick the Black Bears to seize their first two road wins of the year.
Maine 3, ND 2

Massachusetts at Northeastern
Jim’s pick: Maybe NU gets caught looking ahead to the Beanpot final. But I doubt it.
NU 4, UMass 2
Dave’s pick: The more I watch the Huskies, the more impressed I become. They’ll come to play and will win.
NU 4, UMass 1

Vermont at New Hampshire
Jim’s pick: This is the series of the weekend. And with New Hampshire being hot, it’s hard to pick against them at home.
UNH 3, UVM 2
Dave’s pick: Pull-the-goalie pick number two. I’d naturally be going with a UNH sweep, having learned my lesson from last weekend. But it’s time to gamble, and this isn’t a bad one. I’ve underestimated the Catamounts all season long, and they’ve pulled off road splits the last two weekends against Northeastern and BU. I’ll need them to make it three weeks in a row and a split the right way.
UVM 3, UNH 2

Saturday, Feb. 8

Maine at Notre Dame
Jim’s pick: Again, going with the Irish based solely on Maine’s road futility.
ND 4, Maine 2
Dave’s pick: How can a team be almost undefeated at home and winless on the road? Time to gamble again on the Black Bears.
Maine 3, ND 2

Massachusetts-Lowell at Massachusetts
Jim’s pick: Lowell wins to claim the Alumni Cup.
UML 4, UMass 2
Dave’s pick: Agreed. The River Hawks complete the sweep and move into sole possession of second place, which is where they belong.
UML 4, UMass 2

Vermont at New Hampshire
Jim’s pick: Any faithful reader knows I hate picking splits. But I really feel UVM will have another happy bus ride home.
UVM 3, UNH 2
Dave’s pick: I’m happily going with UNH here, hoping that my version of the split is the right one.
UNH 4, UVM 2

Monday, Feb. 10

62nd Beanpot (at TD Garden)
Boston University vs. Harvard (Consolation game)
Jim’s pick: It’s been a tough season for BU, but I don’t see another last place Beanpot finish in the cards.
BU 4, Harvard 3
Dave’s pick: The Crimson seniors could finish their collegiate careers with four Beanpot consolation wins, which may be as hollow of an accomplishment as there is in college hockey. But I don’t think so.
BU 4, Harvard 1

Boston College vs. Northeastern (Championship game)
Jim’s pick: If I had to make this pick 10 times, I’d pick BC 9. This is the one where I pick NU.
NU 4, BC 3 (OT)
Dave’s pick: I’d need a gun, literal or figurative, pointed at my head to pick against BC right now. This is easiest of the five picks I’ve differed with Jim on.  Northeastern has impressed and it’ll be a great story if the Huskies win, but I just can’t see it.
BC 3, NU 2

Tuesday, Feb. 11

Connecticut at Providence
Jim’s pick: This should be an easy one for the Friars, but no game vs. AHA teams has been easy for Hockey East this season.
PC 3, UConn 2
Dave’s pick: It’s hard to understand Hockey East’s struggles with Atlantic Hockey (relative to those of other conferences), but I’d be stunned if they extended to a Friars loss.
PC 4, UConn 1

Streaking Eagles, sweeps and a PairWise party

Seeing as I don’t care about Bruno Mars, I’ll take this opportunity at halftime of the Super Bowl to tell you about three things I do care about that I learned this past weekend:

1. Eagles, Gaudreau streaking towards a title

I was a tad bit concerned on Friday night that two of the nation’s longest streaks might end. But both Boston College and forward/Hobey favorite Johnny Gaudreau both kept streaks alive. BC eked out a 2-0 win at Providence to stretch its unbeaten streak to 12 games. And a late third-period insurance goal by Johnny Gaudreau extended the forward’s point streak to a nation’s best 21 games. Both look like they are closing in on hardware as BC has created measurable distance over second-place Northeastern and Massachusetts-Lowell for the regular-season crown (eight point lead, six games remaining). And Gaudreau continues to shine, each day closing in on an easy-vote Hobey Baker.

2. Sweeps follow splits

A week after five different Hockey East series ended in splits, both two-game series played this weekend were sweeps. UMass Lowell beat Merrimack back-to-back nights in a home-and-home series while New Hampshire took two from Notre Dame at home. Both teams that came out on top (both hampered by significant injuries) took major steps forward. The River Hawks are now tied with Northeastern for second place in Hockey East with a game in hand (and they’ll need to come out ahead as NU owns the tie breaker). New Hampshire, meanwhile, moved into fourth place, a key spot that could translate not only into a first-round bye in the Hockey East playoffs, but also a home ice spot in the quarterfinals.

3. Pairwise still looking positive

When the Pairwise premiered this season and six Hockey East teams were above college hockey’s version of the Mendoza Line, we all knew it would be far-fetched to see all six make the NCAA field. Personally, I felt that the remaining league play would likely mean at least half of the eight Hockey East teams in contention for NCAA bids would fall out quickly. But three weeks later, I’m still very optimistic that Hockey East will be extremely well represented in the NCAA field. BC and Lowell are quickly working towards becoming NCAA locks, while Northeastern and Providence are still in the top 11. Even though Notre Dame fell out of the top 15, New Hampshire jumped into the 14th spot. Plenty of hockey to play, but I really like the way the Pairwise is trending.

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