Preview and Predictions: Hockey East #Octofinals

Graham Beck, The Heights

The playoffs are upon us. Who will be coming to the Heights next week?

There are three weeks to go in the BC Interruption hockey picks challenge before we shift gears to Joe and Grant's Annual Bracket Pool (details to come). Last week, AJ made a power-move as the only person to pick Notre Dame to beat BC, so he now moves into third place:

Leaderboard:

Brian - 4 wins (Week 3 tie, Week 4, Week 6 1/2, Week 14 (tie), Week 17)

AJ - 3 wins (Week 3 (tie), Week 14 (tie), Week 16, Week 18)
Grant - 3.5 wins (Week 5, Week 9, Week 11, Week 12 (tie))
Joe - 2.5 wins (Week 1, Week 7, Week 15 (tie))

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)
JCNG - 1 win (Week 12 (tie), Week 15 (tie))

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We now enter a special edition of the predictions challenge with the #Octofinals this week determining who plays on to next week's conference quarterfinals. The scoring system will work the same as it has all year, so get in your score predictions for all three games.

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Now, on to the previews:

#7 Vermont vs. #10 UMass - Tonight, 7:05 PM, NESN

Records: UVM (18-12-3)... UMass (8-21-4)
PWR: UVM: t-#13... UMass t-#46
KRACH: UVM #12... UMass #42

Let's get this one thing straight right off the bat: Vermont is a good hockey team, and UMass is a bad hockey team. So even though I am picking a UMass win in this one, I'm doing so only off of a crazy hunch that we are destined to see another set of BC-UMass hockey games in March at Conte Forum. It's not because I think Vermont's record is soft, or that UMass is better than their record indicates, or that Frank Vatrano's emergence in the UMass lineup will suddenly make them a much better hockey team, though he will help.

Vermont has been consistently very good all year and made a habit of never being swept in a weekend series (except for that time BC did it). Their 10-10 record in conference play pretty much indicates how their league season has gone, as does their 49-48 goal margin in those 20 games. While not flashy, they're a good all around team, led offensively by one-time BC prospect Chris McCarthy's 40-point campaign.

UMass, meanwhile, has also been consistent all year... consistently poor. The 104 goals they've given up is second-worst in the league behind only BU and it's hard to say any particular part of their game has stood out. Their leading scorer has 27 points, and goalie Steve Mastalerz, who was supposed to be a key component of their success this year, has a .906 save percentage. In a year that's featured a loss to AIC and general noncompetitiveness in league play, some of our UMass friends might be looking forward to having their season put out of its misery so they can focus on what hopes to be a slightly more promising 2014-15.

No such luck. By some random chance, I say UMass wins, 3-2.

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#8 Notre Dame vs. #9 Boston University - Saturday, 7:05 PM, WatchND.com

Records: ND 20-12-2... BU 10-20-4
PWR: ND #10... BU #44
KRACH: ND #9... BU #39

In a weird #Octofinals quirk, I suspect, from playing around with CHN's Pairwise calculator, that a Notre Dame loss tonight and elimination from the playoffs in the #Octofinals stage would still see them make the NCAA tournament. They would likely sit still at around #11 and would have to sit tight for two weeks and hope for not many upsets in conference tournaments. Then they'd come back after two bye weeks for the NCAA regionals. Makes sense, right?

On the other hand, if Notre Dame wins and ends up playing a pair of games against Teams Under Consideration next week and gets swept, they actually could end up getting passed over a couple of times and missing the NCAA tournament entirely, as their win over lowly BU wouldn't provide much of a ratings bump. Fun times.

We all know from watching them last week that Notre Dame is not your typical #8 seed, and like the #8-seeded LA Kings of 2012 Stanley Cup playoff lore, they hope to turn a surprisingly poor regular season into a surprising run to a championship. The Irish are coming off of their biggest win of the season against BC last week, and are 5-0-1 in their last six, following arguably the nadir of their season, a sweep by UNH a few weekends ago.

BU is also coming off their most impressive weekend of the season after Northeastern pulled the ultimate Northeastern and coughed up their first round bye *and* home ice by getting swept by BU, a team that had won one game since Thanksgiving weekend. While the "BU confidence/resurgence" narrative is getting play in your friendly BU-laden college hockey media outlets, I'm not buying what they're selling. BU is the leakiest team in the league, giving up a staggering 110 goals despite having two very good goaltenders. They also have one of the worst shot margins in the country. Even Notre Dame's "high powered offense" should be able to break through against BU. Notre Dame wins, 4-1.

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#6 Maine vs. #11 Merrimack - Saturday, 7:05 PM

Records: Maine (15-13-4)... Merrimack (8-21-3)
PWR: Maine: t-21.... Merrimack: t-46
KRACH: Maine: 21... Merrimack 46

This could be a "captain obvious alert" given that this is the 6-11 matchup, but this certainly looks to be the game least likely to see an upset. Obviously, Merrimack is not very good. We all know about their abjectly poor offense which averaged 1.6 goals per game in league play. But since BC last saw the 'Mack, when they were mid-pack defensively, they've taken a serious nosedive in that department, and actually ended up tied with BU for most goals allowed in league play (66). There have been very few bright spots for the Warriors this season.

On the flip side, Maine has been very, very good at home - last week's sweep at the hands of Providence aside, of course. They have what must be the largest home/road disparity in league history - a 12-3-0 mark at home, and a 1-10-3 record on the road.

With the Black Bears at home, I suspect they'll win - call it Maine, 4-0, in a whitewash - but I think next week will probably the end of a pretty solid Year 1 under Red Gendron.

Who do you think will advance out of the #Octofinals and play for a chance to go to the Garden next week? Leave your thoughts below.

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