Preview/Predictions: Hockey East Semifinals & Finals

Welp

Well, this stinks. If you're a BC hockey diehard, you certainly circle this weekend on your calendar as one of the best of the year - the Hockey East tournament at TD Garden. But for the first time in 10 years, the Eagles will not be there, on the heels of a crushing series loss against Notre Dame.

But hockey marches on, even without us, and this should be a very entertaining weekend as the conferences crown their champions and set the NCAA tournament field. It's already been topsy-turvy; yesterday, the inaugural Big Ten tournament started with a pair of upsets. Penn State beat Michigan 2-1 in double overtime, putting the Wolverines in serious peril of missing the tournament; and Michigan State was upended by Ohio State, ending the Spartans' horribly disappointing season.

Today at TD Garden, NESN and NBCSN will air a pair of Hockey East semifinals: Notre Dame vs. UMass-Lowell (5 PM) and Providence vs. New Hampshire. Who will take home the conference title? Can UNH punch their way into the NCAA tournament?

This is your last chance to get in on the prediction game for 2013-2014. Over the weekend, we'll be launching Joe & Grant's 8th Annual NCAA Hockey Bracket Pool. If you're interested in signing up, join the Facebook group or shoot Grant an email.

Last week's winner

New Guy was rock-solid with his predictions and won the week with 32 points. Nobody picked BC to lose to ND, but New Guy did have the series going three games; he nailed the other series on the head - UML in 3, PC in 2, UNH in 3. Good work New Guy.

Standings

Brian - 4 wins (Week 3 tie, Week 4, Week 6 1/2, Week 14 (tie), Week 17)
Grant - 3.5 wins (Week 5, Week 9, Week 11, Week 12 (tie))
AJ - 3 wins (Week 3 (tie), Week 14 (tie), Week 16, Week 18)
Joe - 2.5 wins (Week 1, Week 7, Week 15 (tie))
JCNG - 2 wins (Week 12 (tie), Week 15 (tie), Week 19)

airforce987 - 1 win (Week 18)
ACal6888: 1 win (Week 10)
giantsfan428: 1 win (Week 8)
Conrad - 1 win (Week 2)
BCEagle74 - 1 win (Week 13)
BCJacket5 - 1 win (Week 6)
Expatriate in Tampa - 1 win (week 19)

So the title comes down to Brian, Grant and AJ, with New Guy or myself having a chance to brack the top 3. For all you non-staff, you can either separate yourself from the rest of the pack or enter an 8-way tie for 6th.

This week's picks

UMass Lowell vs. Notre Dame - 5 PM

I've been on the Lowell bandwagon all year; I'm not going to change that just because Notre Dame is red hot right now. They'll certainly be a popular pick to take home the crown this weekend, and it's easy to see why. They're an excellent team.

However, I do think Lowell is better. And I think Lowell's defense-first, physical style is a better matchup to beat the Irish than what the Eagles posed. I also still think that if BC gets another crack at Notre Dame next weekend or in Philly, BC will prevail. It was sort of a perfect storm of events that allowed ND to get hot and hopscotch past the Eagles.

We'll see how it plays out, but i'm sticking with my Lowell prediction. Lowell 3, Notre Dame 1

New Hampshire vs. Providence, 8 PM

At the beginning of the year, Grant and I both pegged UNH as a team to watch this season. I thought they showed some underlying strength last year as a young team and figured they'd step it up this year and become a top-4/5 team and an NCAA tournament team.

That didn't quite happen, so our pick looked a little dumb for a while. However, once again, some of the underlying stats (goal differential, shot differential, etc.) made it look like UNH would eventually be on the rise if they could get it together.

They are finally on a roll, but it might be too late to get an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament. They're 17th right now and a loss this weekend might sink any hopes they have of getting on the right side of the bubble. However, they have an opportunity to take matters into their own hands and win the autobid.

Standing in their way is a resurgent Providence College, backed by the conference's most naturally gifted goaltender, Jon Gillies. The Friars went on a serious skid in calendar year 2014, but bounced back to rattle off 6 wins in a row. However, they were all against UMass and Maine, so we'll see what happens when they hit the big stage this weekend.

UNH will be without one of their prime puck-movers in Trevor Van Riemsdyk, but they still bring a lot of offense from the blue line, particularly through Eric Knodel. I'm sticking by another one of my early-season hunches and picking UNH to use their offensive skill to get past the stout Friars. UNH 4, Providence 2

My predicted final:

UMass Lowell 4, UNH 3 (3 OT)

We're due for a wild and crazy multiple overtime Hockey East final.

Who you got?

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