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Can Boston College Hockey Bounce Back In Time For a Tournament Run?

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Optimism vs. pessimism. There's a strong case for both.

Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

As a guest to our comments section kindly pointed out on Saturday, the Boston College Eagles' loss in the Hockey East semifinal came at the hands of a red-hot team that would go on to lift the tournament trophy. So maybe we shouldn't feel too much doom and gloom associated with that game.

But the fact remains: BC lost two regular season games all year in Hockey East, and yet lost two games in the Hockey East tournament. They are also now 2-3 in their last five games. It's pretty clear that, hot streak or no hot streak from NU, the Eagles are not hitting their stride as the season's most important games get underway.

So what's going on? And can it be corrected? There's a case for both optimism and pessimism here as BC gears up to take on Harvard in Friday's NCAA regional semifinal.

The most compelling case to be optimistic is that BC's defensive bumbling on Friday would be almost impossible to repeat. Multiple BC defensemen had their worst game of the season on Friday, and it's honestly difficult to imagine things going that poorly again. And yet in spite of BC's bad case of the yips, their offensive firepower kept them in the game, losing by just one in a game they could have easily gotten smoked in.

Another issue in the last few weekends has been a lack of consistency in the BC lineup, an issue I hope the coaching staff addresses this week. Game 1 of the Hockey East quarterfinals against Vermont represented the first time BC had its full lineup available since the Beanpot final, and they went with a very similar setup to the one that they used in the Beanpot:

Gaudreau / White / R Fitzgerald
Wood / Cangelosi / Gilmour
Doherty / Sanford / Tuch
Jeke / Brown / Dudek
Chris Calnan as 13th forward (he ended up playing regularly by the end of the game)

McCoshen /c Fitzgerald
Kim / Santini
Savage

Defensively, this lineup was pretty successful, pitching a shutout against UVM. McCoshen missed game 2 vs. Vermont due to a suspension, so the coaching staff rejiggered the lineup entirely, sliding Teddy Doherty back to the blue line and moving Brown and Dudek up in the lineup, something they repeated in the next two games despite McCoshen's return.

The resulting lines have not seemed to develop a real rhythm, aside from the temporary combination of Fitzgerald, White and Dudek which struck twice in game 3 vs. Vermont. In addition, it feels like the loss of Doherty up front has made BC more vulnerable, as his presence with Sanford and Tuch made them a grinding, possession-based line that seemed to eat up a lot of time in the opponents' zone.

I suspect we'll see BC return to the lineup they used during their long unbeaten run; we'll keep our eyes open for news from practice this week to see if that turns out to be the case.

Another problem plaguing BC, which turned out to be an issue against Northeastern as well, and not just Vermont's trapping style, is that they've really struggled to break the puck out cleanly through the neutral zone. We've seen a lot of BC heaving the puck up the boards with a stretch pass to a forward trying to burn past the D, as the Eagles seem to have run out of other successful ideas for carrying the puck through the neutral zone and setting up the attack. That starts with the blueliners as well, who need to identify the right first pass to start the breakout and let the Eagles' forwards skate cleanly through the neutral zone.

The last time BC played Harvard, they put forth a superb defensive effort in the game's final 40 minutes, limiting Harvard to just 23 shots,including 6 while trailing in the third period. This required all 5 players on the ice clamping down on the Crimson's high-powered attack, proceeding cautiously while being mindful that BC's own high-end skill up front means they'll have opportunities to cash in even without opening the game up too much.

That focus on defense will likely be the blueprint this week as well. Jerry York and the staff need to stress defensive responsibility first and foremost, along with crisp breakouts through the neutral zone.

BC has the ability to score in bunches against anyone, and they have one of the nation's best goaltenders between the pipes. If they can clean up the mistakes in their own end, they certainly could get back on the horse and make a run at Tampa this weekend. If they don't, Jimmy Vesey & company will make sure the Eagles get an early start on their offseason.