This weekend, Hockey East playoff action kicks off at the four home arenas of the top schools in the standings.
TJ Ferguson sums up what each team needs to do to win, which players to keep an eye on, and offers his predictions for each series.
At the end, I will discuss the matchups that will ensue—assuming I am right.
The Blackbears are about to start a best-of-three series against the nation's hottest team. This will probably make it near impossible to win two out of three, considering the Terriers won the season series 2-0-1.
Maine got its tie, 2-2, against the Terriers in Orono one night after getting beat 7-2—also in Orono.
Maine needs to do something they haven't done all year—and not once, but twice. Everything I say certainly makes it seem like BU is a lock for the semifinals next weekend.
Maine will need to play a real slow game and get faceoffs every chance they get. They will need to keep BU's forwards out of the slot area and pressure the defensemen when they get the puck at the point.
The boys in dark blue will need to play mistake-free hockey all weekend. Even if they minimize their mistakes to a few per game, the Terriers only need one to open the floodgates.
The Terriers will need to be themselves. If Maine shuts them down early, they can't get nervous, they are at home and have three games. They want to only use two, and should only need two, but in the playoffs anything is possible.
Players to watch this series:
Matt Gilroy: BU Defender and captain. Smart, smart player, great puck mover.
Colin Wilson: BU Forward. Aggressive player, co-leader of hockey east in points, tied for second in the nation. I also don't think this kid wants to stay any longer so he wants to win now.
Scott Darling: Maine Goalie. Exciting young goalie. If he doesn't steal one of this series, Maine doesn't really have a chance. Outdueling Kieran Millan at the other end won't be easy though.
BU wins in two. Game one or two might go to overtime, but the other will probably be a blowout.
This is the series I will actually be at.
Northeastern lost the season series 1-2, going 0-1 at Matthews. However, the team that played at Matthews were not the usual Huskies.
I suspect they were running on the Beanpot hangover having dropped a tough loss to BU. Plus, it didn't help that goalie Brad Thiessen wasn't himself since he got charged in the Beanpot Championship.
However, UMass does feature Hockey East's co-leading scorer James Marcou. They also have a knack for showing up against the best teams.
For Amherst to win they will need a strong offensive presence. They need to get after the young NU defenseman when they are on the ice, get under Thiessen's skin, and shut down the Husky forwards.
For the Huskies to win, the team that has been at the top of the conference standings all year needs to show up. They have a split personality, and the crappy younger brother can often show up against weaker teams.
Players to watch:
James Marcou: UMass Forward. Co-leader for points in Hockey East, tied for seventh in the nation. This kid can play, and what the Minutemen do in this series sits squarely on his shoulders.
Ryan Ginand: NU Forward. Near the top in scoring for Hockey East. Has scored quite a few timely goals this season, and is one of the conferences most exciting puck handlers.
Chris Donovan: NU Forward. Probably my favorite player in the conference. This kid never stops skating, and if you are in the way, he will hit you. He has set career highs in goals, assists, and points and probably isn't done this year.
Northeastern will win in two. The Huskies do not want to drag this one through the dirt at all. Neither does the DogHouse.
This is the first time in years that NU has hosted a Quarterfinal and I doubt anyone at the school wants it to contain any sour notes.
When I first began to realize that Boston College might be on the road for the first round, I picked them as my upset team.
When I first began to realize that New Hampshire was probably going to be at home in the first round, I picked them as the last team I'd want to play in the quarterfinals.
New Hampshire is the only school that plays on an olympic-sized ice sheet. UNH won this season series 2-1.
While the Wildcats did get out scored in an 8-6 shootout in Manchester, they went on to win by a combined 7-4 in a weekend home-and-home series in late February.
For Boston College to win, they will need to see John Muse return to his freshman form. He has had quite a few shaky performances this year, two of which I saw firsthand. And his numbers are just not as good as they were last year.
They also need to keep up the scoring pace with UNH. Both teams have pretty skilled forwards who can find the back of the net.
For UNH to win, they will need to get into Muse's head and either get him off his game, or just figure out how to beat him enough to win the games. They also need their scorers to get going and for goalie Brian Foster to continue his Goalie of Month play.
Players to Watch:
James van Riemsdyk: UNH Forward. Incredibly skilled forward, with size. This kid has great hands and the size and strength to get the positioning he wants. He leads the Wildcats in assists, is second in goals, and way out in front in points.
Brock Bradford: BC Forward. Second-highest goal total in Hockey East. He has a good nose for the goal and is the leader on this team. They will probably succeed as much as he does.
This series will go to three games. Right now I am kind of leaning towards UNH, but every time I convince myself they will win, I can't help but think Boston College will win.
I'm going with the upset with this one, I think—Boston College in three.
The season series between Lowell and Vermont ended in a 1-1-1 tie. The kicker is that the home team never won.
Vermont had two chances to win at home on the same weekend, and managed just one point.
When I saw that these two teams might play meet up in the quarterfinals, I decided the home team was going to lose. Now if this series was in Lowell, that would be a lot easier to say.
However, the Catamounts are a dangerous team and shouldn't be counted out against anybody. But if Lowell can play a consistent series at the level they are capable, they can't be counted out against anybody.
For Lowell to win, they will have to get things going early and score soon—then figure out a way to stifle the UVM offense. In case you haven't heard, Viktor Stalberg is nasty.
For Vermont to win, they will need Rob Madore to keep his cool. The freshman netminder has turned in some pretty nice performances, but I'm sure there have also been some pretty shaky ones.
They also need to get the scoring going early and get the crowd into the game. The best part about being at home is you have your fans cheering for you. There is nothing worse than being at home and not hearing your fans.
Players to Watch:
Viktor Stalberg: UVM Forward. Electric player, one of Hockey East's and the nations most exciting players to watch when he has the puck. He truly is scary every time he gets it.
Maury Edwards: UML Defender. He is the only team leader in points who is a defenseman in the conference. I only got one chance to see them this year so I don't know if it is a lack of scoring up front, or if he is just really good, I guess we'll have to see.
After three games of hard-fought, fast-paced hockey, I think Lowell will come away with the upset. I think two games will go to overtime.
Assuming my pics are correct. Boston University would play UMass-Lowell and Northeastern would play UNH in the semifinals.
BU swept Lowell in the regular season, and I don't think there was much blood lost between these two teams. This could be an exciting game.
The big match-up will be Northeastern vs. Boston College. These teams had an exciting series in the final weekend splitting it. Both teams will be out to prove the way they won wasn't a fluke.
If I am wrong about the BC-UNH series, the Huskies vs. Wildcats match-up is even better. These teams had a real rough series early in the season that ended in a Northeastern win and the DogHouse cheering "Get off the ice, get off the ice" well before the handshake even started.