It's been just about two weeks since the Boston College hockey team wrapped up its regular season with a split against UMass Lowell. While the break between the end of the season and the quarterfinals can often feel like a buzzkill, it seemed to come at the right time for BC. With the Eagles banged up and showing some wear and tear, it was a good time for BC to get a week off and recuperate for the playoffs.
With Colin White "back to 100%" according to Jerry York, Chris Calnan hopefully closer to a return, and Thatcher Demko able to rest a bit, BC should be ready to go tomorrow night when the Vermont Catamounts come to town for a rematch of last year's Hockey East quarterfinals, in which UVM stunned BC in three games.
Let's talk about the Catamounts and preview this weekend's matchup.
Regular season matchups
BC played Vermont twice this regular season, with sweeping a pair of tight games at UVM's Gutterson Fieldhouse on February 19-20.
In the Friday night game, BC gave up a goal just 15 seconds in to Jonathan Turk, but locked down after that and retook control of the game. Two quick goals by Austin Cangelosi and Zach Sanford gave BC the lead back. Teddy Doherty extended the lead in the second period with a power play goal, and that was all she wrote.
BC's penalty kill carried the day against a Vermont power play that just couldn't get anything going. The Catamounts went 0 for 7 with the man advantage and frequently were unable to even get their power play set up.
It was a similar story on Saturday night. UVM did get one power play goal - a first period strike by Mario Puskarich that put the Cats up 1-0. But the BC penalty kill locked down after that and finished the game 7-for-8. Meanwhile, BC controlled the game at even strength, outshooting UVM for the game 37-31 despite spending over 1/3 of the game shorthanded. Ryan Fitzgerald scored two goals, including a late empty netter to seal the deal.
While BC didn't dominate the series by any stretch of the imagination, they were very clearly in control, and probably would have had an easier go of it if they didn't put themselves on the PK 15 times. While UVM generated a number of chances each night, they seemed to lack the high end skill necessary to turn possession in to goals.
Given how well BC was able to limit UVM offensively, you'd have to expect a similar defensive performance at home this weekend, unless the penalty kill lags and BC continues to take a boatload of penalties.
UVM's defense was bolstered by the return of starting goalie Mike Santaguida, who returned in the final week of the season after missing most of the season with an injury. Santaguida got lit up early in game 1 of last year's quarterfinal series, ceding the net to Brody Hoffman who proceeded to shut the Eagles down, so Santaguida will be looking for a bounceback playoff performance this year.
UVM is a mid pack team defensively, 7th in HEA with 2.65 goals allowed per game. Senior Yvan Pattyn has arguably been UVM's top defenseman, with 12 points in 35 games and a team leading +6. Pattyn and Chris Muscoby will likely comprise UVM's top blue line pairing this weekend.
They've actually been a pretty decent possession team, with 52.5% CF in all situations and 53.5% at even strength, allowing 29.76 shots on goal per game. That jives with what the eye test showed up in Burlington, as UVM was able to control the puck and generate shots but just not able to do much with those chances.
Vermont's penalty kill has struggled, with opponents clicking at a 21.6% success rate, making the Catamounts' PK 10th in the league.
The Catamounts' top line against UConn was Mario Puskarich, Jarrid Privitera and Brendan Bradley. Those three have accounted for a sizable chunk of the team's scoring.
Puskarich is a dynamic player who burst on to the scene as a freshman and has remained UVM's top player throughout his three seasons in Burlington. This year he's scored 27 points in 37 games, the team's leader. Undersized at 5'9'', Puskarich is a classic creative winger who is really good with the puck and can be particularly dangerous on the power play, though he hasn't had many players to pass to on the PP this year.
Bradley and J. Privitera have 19 and 17 points this year, but there's a big drop off after that. UVM's fourth leading scorer among forwards, Brady Shaw, has just 13 points in 34 games.
Vermont's power play has been very bad this season, scoring just 16 times on 135 attempts for an 11.9% success rate. Puskarich has 4 of UVM's PPGs and assists on 4 of the others.
Without oversimplifying it too much, if you can contain Puskarich and his linemates, it's rare for Vermont to get much else going offensively. With the #11 offense in the league at 2.14 goals per game, UVM will be hoping for great defense and goaltending if they want to win this series.
Struggles vs. the best
Vermont struggled against everyone this year, posting a 6-13-3 record in Hockey East games, but they particularly were poor against the league's top 5 teams, going a combined 1-9 against BC, BU, Notre Dame, Providence and UMass Lowell.
The Bottom Line
Barring some sort of disastrous meltdown, BC should be able to limit Vermont offensively and only need to score, say, 3 goals or so to win these games. If they can do a better job than they did in Burlington of not making it harder on themselves by staying out of the box, they should be able to control these games at home and move on. There are obviously no givens in Hockey East, but this is a matchup BC will be heavily favored to win.