Boston College needed to play a much more defensively responsible game if they were going to advance past Harvard in the NCAA hockey tournament. They did exactly that. Despite getting dominated territorially in the final two periods, BC limited Harvard to mostly lower quality chances, played pretty sound defense, and used their freakish skill going forward to do enough to win the game.
Now they will have to elevate their play once again in a one off game to decide who makes it to the Frozen Four. Minnesota-Duluth comes in riding high after knocking Providence off in double overtime last night, 2-1. They're one of the best possession teams in the country, and they've got great defensive stats to back that up.
Expect BC to spend a lot of time in their own end tonight. The big question will be how productive they can make their trips down the other end of the ice.
#2-seed Boston College Eagles (27-7-5, #5 in the Pairwise rankings) vs.
#4-seed Minnesota-Duluth Bulldogs (19-15-5, #14 in the Pairwise rankings)
Date and Time: Saturday, March 25, 2016, 9 PM
Venue: DCU Center, Worcester, Mass.
BY THE NUMBERS
It's fair to expect a low scoring game tonight. Minnesota-Duluth is #8 in the nation in goals against average (2.03), allowing more than two goals just twice in their last 13 games. On the flip side, the Bulldogs don't have a super fearsome offense, tied for 27th in the nation with 2.69 goals per game. If you put much stock in to the CHODR rankings - a computer prediction system that uses offensive and defensive stats to project game results - they predict a final score of 2.58-2.21 with the edge to BC. So it'll be important to see who scores that critical .58 of a goal.
The other defining stat for Duluth is how comprehensively they often outshoot teams. UMD's CF% in all situations is is 57.5%, #2 in the nation, and an astounding 58% at even strength. Filtered out to include close situations only, it's up at 60.1%.
In terms of raw numbers, this comes out to Duluth averaging 64.61 shot attempts per game, with 34.64 of those shots on net. More importantly, their opponents don't get many shots at all, averaging 25.41 shots on net allowed per game.
Watching Duluth in person last night, they did a great job keeping the puck in the attacking zone for long stretches. Though they were not explosive, they had an extremely high quantity of lower quality shots, and kept plugging away at it until they put a few in.
THE PREGAME WATERING HOLE
Anywhere where you can watch BU-Denver. That should be a fascinating game, and it gets underway at 6:30 PM on ESPNU. The NCHC eliminated two Hockey East teams yesterday, and could put some real egg in the conference's face tonight depending on how results go. Call it revenge for the 2015 Frozen Four, I guess.
GIF OF THE GAME
Hang in there, baby!
Based on the way UMD plays, and the way BC's games have gone lately, this has the potential to be a frustrating game to watch. I think we're probably looking at the Bulldogs pouring on over 40 shots, and BC being limited to somewhere between, say, 23 and 26. But the Eagles have the skill to make you pay with limited opportunities, and BC will be looking for chances in transition. Providence had a few such chances last night without being able to make them count. This is where guys like Alex Tuch and Miles Wood are just absolutely key for BC.
I'm guessing that will be the game plan for BC. Try to keep chances to the outside and make sure Demko has the opportunity to make routine-ish saves. Don't do anything dumb and cough up high quality opportunities. Try to stay out of the box. And when Duluth slips up, use speed and skill to attack quickly in transition and score crushing goals.
It's really not a bad gameplan at all, but it's going to be white knuckle stuff to watch.
It looked like Cat Magic might be ending when their pick, Northeastern, got smoked by North Dakota in the first tournament game yesterday. But the cats bounced back to go 3 for 4 on the day, including picking BC's win over Harvard.
Cody the cat makes a prediction we'll be happy with tonight, picking the Eagles to top the Bulldogs and advance to the Frozen Four.
Joe Gravellese: Boston College 3, Minnesota Duluth 1
Oh no. I don't like this one bit. I don't like that we're all picking BC to win again. We all knew they were probably going to beat Harvard, right? So let's not get too carried away just yet.
That said... as I was watching PC play Duluth last night, despite my love for the Freaky Friars I found myself pulling for Duluth. I felt like they were a really good team, but one that BC could beat. The fact that they're less familiar with BC than the Friars are makes me happy.
The Eagles have an edge in terms of overall team speed and are probably faster than any team UMD faces regularly outside of North Dakota.
If BC can play as well as they did last night in terms of limiting grade A chances - and they should be able to, against an offense that's not as high powered as Harvard's - they should be able to do enough in transition and maybe on the power play to pull past the Bulldogs.
The big hazards and pitfalls to look out for tonight are dumb breakout passes that get picked off and give Duluth a numbers advantage if they hold the zone, and the potential for lots of traffic in front of the net to create screens and score some deflected or screened goals off Demko. You'll recall that goals from distance was an achilles heel for this team in the middle of the season, and I fear that's going to be a big hazard tonight even if BC can keep Duluth mostly to the perimeter.
But I have faith in Demko's ability to stop what he can see. If he's able to see the shots coming in, and Tuch and Wood play like they did last night, BC has every opportunity to get to Tampa.
AJ Black: Boston College 4, Minnesota Duluth 2
Back on the optimism wagon!
Grant Salzano: Boston College 4, Minnesota Duluth 1
I'm feeling a hell of a lot better than I did before the Harvard game. Let's GOOOOOOOOOOOOO!
Laura Berestecki: Boston College 3, Minnesota Duluth 1
Laura kept the faith. She always keeps the faith. Will it be rewarded again tonight?
Arthur Bailin: Boston College 4, Minnesota Duluth 1
I think this will be a smashmouth, in your face, F you kind of game. I think that's the best way for UMD to win. But unfortunately for Duluth, BC can win those games too.
Caleb Childers: Boston College 3, Minnesota Duluth 1
Lock 'em down and head to Tampa.
Will BC advance to the Frozen Four? Leave your thoughts in a comment here, or join the conversation on Twitter. Let's go BC - play your best 60 minutes of the season and earn your trip to Tampa!