Since Hockey East expanded the conference tournament, the quarterfinal round has been a struggle for Boston College. In 2014, Notre Dame bounced a high-flying, Frozen Four-bound BC team at Conte Forum. The last two years, Vermont has been the thorn in BC's side - bouncing back from a game 1 loss to drop the Eagles in 3 games in 2015, then pushing another highly talented Eagle team to the brink last year before Ryan Fitzgerald authored BC's escape with an overtime, series-winning goal.
Two weeks ago, Boston College fans got a stark reminder of how frustrating and difficult Vermont can be to play against. The Eagles held third period leads in both games of a two-game set at Conte, but UVM roared back to force two ties.
At that point, it felt written in the stars that BC would have to deal with Vermont yet again in the playoffs - and that's exactly what happened. The 6-seed Catamounts made quick work of Maine in the Octofinals and now head back to Conte for the third straight year.
This year's quarterfinal series will have more intensity than ever, as both teams are playing for their tournament lives.
Vermont is 15th and would put themselves in pretty good position to qualify if they dump BC out of the playoffs again - but would almost certainly miss out if they drop this series. The Eagles, on the other hand, have a tougher (but still possible) path to the NCAAs. BC sits tied for 18th; playing around with College Hockey News' Pairwise projector makes it look like sweeping Vermont would get the Eagles to around 15th, so they'd have a chance to move to the right side of the line at the Hockey East semifinals (or if a good number of teams ahead of them drop games).
Of course, before we talk about sweeping Vermont or getting in to the tournament picture, we need to just hope BC can get that winning feeling back. February was a disaster for the Eagles; they went in to the Beanpot with a huge lead in the Hockey East standings and with a puncher's chance to win the Boston trophy. They got flattened by BU in the Beanpot opener, dropped a heartbreaker to Northeastern in the third place game, and struggled to score and finish games, going 0-2-2 against Vermont and Lowell to close out the season.
It would be fair to be pessimistic right now, and with a team coming in that's been a tricky one for BC, nobody will be taking this series for granted.
That said, despite the history between these two teams, this might be a decent scenario for the Eagles. Vermont is a good team, but they're far from unbeatable; they rode a hot start to a decent national ranking, but they're 6-5-3 since January 13. BC never trailed in their series against Vermont in February, and in fact led for a sizable majority of the series. A bounce here or there and that could have been a much different weekend.
Vermont is a well coached, deep team, but they don't have a ton of superstar scorers. In Matt Gaudreau, Austin Cangelosi, and Colin White, BC has the three highest scorers in this series; UVM's top scorers are Mario Puskarich (27 points), Brian Bowen (27) and Ross Colton (26). The goaltending difference on paper is minimal - Stefanos Lekkas has posted a .918 save percentage to Joe Woll's .912.
Ryan Fitzgerald and Christopher Brown, who are both in various states of recovery, have two weeks to rest up, as does Joe Woll, who seemed to be hitting a bit of a freshman wall playing huge minutes down the stretch.
Additionally, while Vermont on paper is a few steps below a Notre Dame or a Providence, their stellar out of conference record and early season push makes them a team directly in BC's Pairwise path at #15 - so should BC bounce back with a strong weekend, their ranking will get a boost.
One of the big knocks against the addition of the octofinals round was that it can break up the momentum of a team riding a hot streak in to the playoffs. This year, with the Eagles stumbling in to the postseason, maybe the week off can be just the salve they need.
It's easy to feel pessimistic given the way February went for BC, but there's a clean slate now - and two wins this weekend could keep the season alive and change the entire mood around the BC camp. The first chance to stay alive comes Friday night at 7 PM at Kelley Rink.