Brian: The Eagles men's ice hockey team escaped with a 4-3 overtime victory over Providence on Saturday night, bringing them within a point of 5th place in Hockey East. Hard to believe this team began the season as the #1 team in the country. It was the Eagles first 4 point Hockey East weekend since the Eagles swept the Black Bears at Conte Forum back on January 24-25. The pair of wins coupled with a pair of Massachusetts losses to Boston U. locks up at least the 6th seed in the Hockey East quarterfinals, where the Eagles would play either New Hampshire or Vermont. The bad news for the Eagles is that while they are securely in the Hockey East quarters, York's boys are squarely on the outside looking in for the field of 16 and the NCAA Tournament. (And, of course, the Eagles won't make the field when the Frozen Four is back on the East coast for the first time since 2004!) The Eagles finish the regular season with a home-and-home with the #1 team in Hockey East, the Northeastern Huskies. The Huskies are 10-4-2 in their last 16 games and are coming off a weekend sweep of Lowell.
I think that there is still the slim chance that the Eagles can go on a run, not win the Hockey East tournament, and still make the tournament. I think it would take a sweep of Northeastern this weekend and a sweep of their quarterfinals matchup against UNH / Vermont. I still don't think that will get the Eagles in ... unless a team on the edge of the PairWise Rankings takes a tumble down the stretch ... and think the Eagles would have to upset either BU or Northeastern in the Hockey East semis to advance to the championship game. That would push the Eagles record to 20-13-5 (12-10-5 Hockey East) which is probably good enough for an at-large berth.
So Jeff, what are the chances the Eagles start this stretch run off right and sweep Northeastern this weekend? Keep in mind that Northeastern also has something to play for this weekend. They will be trying to hold off Boston U. (currently 1 point behind NU) for the #1 overall seed and a quarterfinals matchup against Maine.
Jeff: Sweep the series? Slim. Very Slim. 10% at best. Chances of getting 2 or 3 points are good though. The Eagles should have a little confidence from last week's sweep and have nothing to lose at this point. Even though Northeastern is a better team than BC this year I think the Eagles will win 1 of 2.
Brian: The only team playing better than Northeastern these days is the #1 team in the country, the BU Terriers. The Terriers are 11-0-3 in their last 14 games and finish the regular season with a series against Providence, who was eliminated from the Hockey East tournament this past weekend. What are the chances that this year's Hockey East tournament title game isn't Northeastern vs. Boston U. round 4?
Jeff: Do we have to acknowledge that BU is #1? Aren't we supposed to pretend they do not exist or something? Northeastern and BU are having very good seasons respectively but just like the ACC tournament where there is no guarantee UNC will win a single game, let alone the entire tournament, there is no sure thing here that the two top seeds will advance to the finals. Hopefully, the Eagles have some say in making sure that doesn't happen.
Brian: Finally, Hockey East is the only men's ice hockey conference in the country that does not invite all 10 member teams to compete in its postseason tournament. The #9 and #10 teams are eliminated from participating in the tournament (those teams this year being Providence and Merrimack). Up until recently, the Big East basketball tournament had a similar format where the bottom teams were not invited to Madison Square Garden. Now the Big East invites all 16 teams to New York. The Western Collegiate Hockey Association (WCHA) - another I-A conference with 10 teams - has a different postseason tournament format, where all 10 teams play in a best of 3 opening round, then the Final 5 play in a #4 vs. #5 single elimination quarterfinal, followed by a #1 vs. #4/#5 and a #2 vs. #3 single elimination semifinal.
My question is do you like Hockey East's postseason tournament format, where it incentivizes the regular season as teams vie for the 8th and final playoff spot, or do you think Hockey East's postseason tournament should give every team a shot?
Jeff: This is a great format. The regular season games should have a lot of meaning and there is nothing wrong with cutting down to eight teams. For the Big East and basketball I have slightly different feelings because the entire tournament is the same weekend every year and fans and alums want to be able to watch their team for at least one or two games every year if they are going to go and shell out big money for the tournament tickets. For Hockey East though I like it.