After an amazing start to the college hockey postseason, highlighted by a five-overtime game between UMass and Notre Dame, the second day went with nary a whimper in comparison. It was something to behold, though, in Hockey East, and for that, we turn our attention to what went on and what's on tap for today.
As a reminder, I'm measuring the losses with the Bill Simmons Levels of Losing. For a primer on what that is, click here. I swear it's not as bad as you might think, and each level's explanation will drudge up memories that'll send you flying to the liquor cabinet for the cheapest, most potent booze you can find.
Notre Dame 5, UMass 3
Like I pointed out yesterday, when Quinnipiac won their five-overtime game against Union, they promptly lost both follow up games and were eliminated from the ECAC postseason. UMass pushed Notre Dame to the very brink of all human boundaries on Friday night, picking up the two-and-a-half game victory, but the Fighting Irish rebounded on Saturday to force a decisive third game.
Mario Lucia scored three minutes into the first period, and despite UMass taking a 2-1 lead early on in the second period, the Fighting Irish scored the next four goals, including three in the third period. They scored two within 38 seconds of one another, and despite giving up a third goal late, hung on for the victory.
The game was decidedly lacking in flow, but I guess that can be expected with the amount of hockey they've played. It'll be interesting to see what happens on Sunday, especially since the players will be devoid of an hour's sleep thanks to the magic of Daylight Savings Time. At least they'll get it back when they come east for the Quarterfinals, whoever that may be.
Low down on Game Three - if UMass wins, they go to BU. If Notre Dame wins, they play UMass-Lowell.
Level of Losing: Level XVI - The Princeton Principle.
Why? Well let's be honest here. UMass is playing extremely tough, but it's hard to imagine them winning this series, even with the marathon victory on Friday. Notre Dame is much more talented, and in the end, it doesn't matter how they hang tough, they still might lose. We had very low expectations for UMass, and while they've played tough and haven't gone away, it feels like Sunday's going to go in favor of the Irish.
That said, if Notre Dame loses, this automatically rockets up to the top of the levels of losing and becomes one of those games that reveals something greater about the program, an Achilles' heel of sort. More on this later I think.
UNH 2, UConn 0
The Huskies move onto the Quarterfinals by sweeping the #Icebus and ending the surprisingly competent and even a little bit fun of a ride UConn had in their inaugural Hockey East campaign. UNH outshot the Huskies, 44-19, including a 19-3 clip in the second period. Connecticut's season ends with a 10-19-7 record - not great, but there's something to be said for how they played this year. They proved they were better at times than people gave them credit for, and given the job Mike Cavanaugh's had to do in building the last couple of years, the future is bright.
As for UNH, they're onto the second round, where their hopes and dreams can die because they never win trophies.
Level of Losing: Level XIV - The Alpha Dog
Why? The Alpha Dog references a big time loss but with the solace there was something far more superior about the other team. UConn never really had a chance in the playoffs by drawing a UNH team picked by the coaches to finish in fifth place. The Wildcats were a .500 team finishing eighth in a league where the top six or seven teams could all be legitimate contenders if the chips fall the right way. They're a better team than the record indicates, and UConn pretty much ran into a force that wasn't losing to them in the first round. It was a bad matchup, especially bearing in mind that UNH pasted the Huskies by a combined 9-2 three weeks ago or so. Don't forget that New Hampshire entered the playoffs by going 6-1 in their final seven games, including a win over both Vermont and BU.
Cheer up, #icebus fans, it was a helluva first run for you.
Maine 4, Vermont 2
The Black Bears forced a decisive third game by winning a hard-fought game against the host Catamounts, 4-2. Maine actually never trailed, putting up leads of 1-0, 2-1, and 3-2 on Vermont only to have the Cats come back and tie the game each time (except for the last one). Connor Leen scored the game winner late in the second period, and Brian Morgan tacked on an insurance goal halfway through the third. Sean Romeo made 21 saves for the Bears, who push the 17th-ranked Catamounts to the deciding game on Sunday night at Gutterson Fieldhouse.
Level of Losing: Level XV- Achilles' Heel
Why? Vermont can't win when they're down after two periods. When trailing after two periods, the Catamounts are 1-9-2 this year. When tied or ahead after two periods of play, they're a combined 18-4-2. Likewise, when giving up the first goal of the game, they're 4-10-1 but are 15-3-2 when scoring first. They're a perfect 8-0 when leading after the first period, but they're 3-7 when trailing after the first. So this loss revealed a telling sign about this team and how bad they are in a particular situational hockey.
The Achilles' Heel reveals a potentially fatal flaw about a program. Vermont is a good team but is on the outside looking in to the NCAA Tournament race. They're likely to finish out of the running unless they win Hockey East, and that might not happen because of one giant flaw - they simply can't win when they get behind. So if Maine can come out like gangbusters and beat up Vermont early, they can win this game on Sunday and sent the Catamounts home to the golf course.
Merrimack 2, Northeastern 1 (OT)
There's a part of me that feels bad for Northeastern. Tied with Merrimack at 1-1, they had a couple of chances to win the game and completely fanned on them in overtime. Kevin Roy found himself with a wide open goal mouth and the puck on his stick, yet didn't get all of the puck and missed. They had two power plays in the first overtime, within about a minute of each other, yet they couldn't score and almost coughed up the game winner in between.
The game winning goal itself was something of an anticlimactic goal - one that nestled its way through Clay Witt's five hole, brushed off his skate and over the goal line, then was quickly cleared by a defenseman. It didn't matter, though, since the referee saw the puck go over, called it a goal, reviewed it, and awarded the game and series to the Warriors.
That means Northeastern, the league's #6 seed who at one point went 9-0-1 by beating Vermont, Notre Dame, and BC (in the Beanpot, no less) is out. That also means Merrimack, the #11 seed who finished the year winless in nine straight games, is in after winning two overtime games.
After losing the Beanpot in overtime to BU, Northeastern split with the Terriers over the weekend but finish the year on a three-game losing streak. They finish .500 at 16-16-4, and honestly, this series loss was more about them fumbling in the clutch against a goalie that just plain got hot at the right time. Rasmus Tirronen made 63 saves in the second game and stopped 99 on the series.
Level of Losing: Level IV - The Guillotine.
Why? Level IV is described as the one that "combines the devastation of the Broken Axel Game with sweeping bitterness and hostility." I have a feeling that's the right way to describe this series - for two games, Northeastern battled hard and forced overtime. But you just couldn't help but feel that something bad was going to happen, and even though you keep waiting for it to happen, you tend to ignore that it's going to happen.
Watching Game 2's overtime, I couldn't help but feel that Merrimack was going to win that game. When Roy missed the open net, I knew Merrimack was going to win that game. But until the Warriors actually scored, and especially as time wore on, you kept convincing yourself that there was no way - NO WAY - they would lose to the 11th seeded team in the playoffs. When they did, I could sense the bitterness from the loss. I was almost angry at myself for thinking Northeastern would win. As Simmons puts it, "These are the games when people end up whipping their remote controls against a wall or breaking their hands while pounding a coffee table... Too many of these and you'll end up in prison."
It's a loss that feels a little empty from the outside, and even for me, a noted detractor of the Huskies, you actually kind of end up feeling bad. Roy missing the empty net resembled Glen Wesley's missed open net in overtime of the 1990 Stanley Cup Final between the Bruins and Oilers. As soon as it was missed, I said out loud in my empty living room, "It's over." When they lost, I thought about posting a picture of a nuclear explosion, but I didn't want to pour mounds of salt on the wounds. I wanted to feel so good for Merrimack, but instead I ended up kind of holding back lest I fling dung at Huskies fans who probably poured every bottle of alcohol into a high ball glass and pounded it.