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Hockey East Quarterfinals: Preview and Predictions

It's go time.

Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

So last week when I made my predictions for the Hockey East Octofinals, I was pretty confident in two things: 1) the round wouldn't be particularly interesting; 2) Northeastern would be the team coming to the Heights for the quarterfinals. I was wrong. A pair of series went the distance, and Northeastern fell in consecutive overtime games to Merrimack to see their season come to an end.

Let's see if I do a little better with my predictions this week.

#3 Boston College (20-11-3) vs. #7 Vermont (20-13-4)

Let's start with this one, obviously. BC last faced Vermont in the playoffs two years ago, when the Eagles swept the Catamounts in fairly routine fashion. They should probably expect a tougher battle this time from a Vermont team that has, on occasion, shown flashes of being able to score, along with flashes of being able to stop the puck - but rarely all at the same time, at least not down the stretch.

As we discussed in this week's Hockey Banter, Vermont's first and second halves have been defined by goaltending, good and bad. Prior to January 1, Mike Santaguida had a .953 save percentage (!) and Brody Hoffman was at .924, combining for a 14-4-1 start to the season. Since that time, Vermont's goaltenders have been, well, not so good. Santaguida's save percentage is .912 since the New Year, and Hoffman's is all the day down at .876. As a result, UVM has struggled in the second half, with a 6-9-3 record.

I think BC is the better team and should be able to score on Vermont as long as they bring their skating legs. Chris Calnan being slotted in to the second line should add some more punch to the offense.

Things are never easy for BC this year, but they should win this series - I'll say BC takes it in 3 games.

Grant Salzano: BC in 2
Dan Rubin: BC in 3
Brian Favat: BC in 3
AJ Black: BC in 2
CoachJF: BC in 3

#1 Boston University (21-7-5) vs. #11 Merrimack (16-16-4)

On paper, this series is certainly a mismatch, as one of the nation's top teams takes on a Merrimack team that sunk like a stone in the second half. Of course, nobody really thought Merrimack would beat Northeastern, so they have to be feeling pretty good about themselves coming off that series win. While BU is probably the best team in Hockey East, Merrimack might be the underdog with the best set of ingredients for springing an upset, starting with Rasmus Tirronen in net.

That said, I don't see how Merrimack can keep up with BU here. The Terriers are averaging over 4 goals a game since January. That, combined with Merrimack's propensity for giving up 30+ shots per game, makes me think the most likely result of this series is Eichel having a field day at the Warriors' expense. Prediction: BU in 2.

Grant Salzano: BU in 2
Dan Rubin: BU in 2
Brian Favat: BU in 3
AJ Black: Merrimack in 3
CoachJF: BU in 3

#2 Providence (21-11-2) vs. #8 New Hampshire (17-17-2)

Last year, UNH had a pretty mediocre regular season, then went on to shock a few teams - including Providence - en route to an appearance in the Hockey East championship game. Can they make another surprise run to TD Garden? UNH has been a pretty solid offensive team all year long, ranking #4 in the conference with 113 goals scored on the year. It certainly has to leave them wondering where they'd be if senior goaltender Casey DeSmith hadn't been booted from the team at the start of the season, as it's defense and goaltending that has let the team down.

On the other side, Providence has Jon Gillies in net and team defense that's usually among the best in Hockey East. Their offense has also trended upward in the second half, actually ranking #2 behind BU in goals scored since the holidays. I have suspected for a while that PC might be the team most likely to give BU fits at the Garden should it get to that point; they're a solid sleeper pick and I don't think they'll lose to UNH. However, the 'Cats will make them work for it. Providence in 3.

Grant Salzano: UNH in 3
Dan Rubin: UNH in 3
Brian Favat: Providence in 2
AJ Black; Providence in 3
CoachJF: Providence in 2

#4 UMass-Lowell (18-10-6) vs. #5 Notre Dame (17-17-5)

Obviously on paper the 4/5 matchup seems the most intriguing of all the series, and it's one that should produce a lot of desperation hockey. Lowell needs to win this series if their season is going to continue, and if they do win it, they should be sitting on the right side of the tournament bubble going into the final weekend. Notre Dame carries with them the confidence of improved play in the second half, but knows they need to win this series or they're done for.

Cal Peterson has emerged as a star between the pipes for the Irish and he'll have to be strong again this weekend against a Lowell team that I suspect will carry much of the play and put up a lot of shots. The Irish have been giving up plenty of chances but their ability to absorb them, combined with the high-end skill of some of their top forwards, has allowed them to come away with big victories down the stretch, including wins over each of the top 3 teams in Hockey East.

I do think Lowell takes it in 3 games. With the exception of their losing funk that ended a few weeks back, Lowell has been a very good team for most of the season, and they seem to be regaining some of that form that made them look like the second best team in Hockey East earlier this year.

Grant Salzano: UML in 2
Dan Rubin: UML in 2
Brian Favat: ND in 3
AJ Black: UML in 3
CoachJF: UML in 3

Prediction Standings

A reminder that for postseason series, the scoring system is: predict the series correctly - 5 points; pick the winner but the wrong number of games - 3 points; correctly pick a 3-game series but the wrong winner - 1 point.

Based on that, the Octofinals Prediction Cup trophy goes to Brian, whose faith in UMass's ability to take ND to three games was rewarded. He also successfully called Vermont over Maine in 3, and UNH's sweep over the IceBus. He was wrong about MC-NU, but so was everyone else.

This extends Brian's lead in the prediction contest with two weeks to go. I need to win both of these last two weeks in order to pass him.

Brian Favat 6.16
Joe Gravellese 4.33
AJ Black 3.50
CoachJF 2.00
New Guy 1.66
BCMike22 1.66
Grant Salzano 1.50
airforce987 1.50
BCJacket5 1.00

Will the Eagles take care of the Catamounts this weekend? Will there be any huge upsets? Who's going to the Garden? Leave your thoughts below.