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Hockey East playoffs get underway

Jeff Bernstein/Collegian

Jeff Bernstein/Collegian

Following the conclusion of games last weekend, the Hockey East Association announced the pairings of its playoff teams for the upcoming 27th annual Hockey East Tournament.

The tournament’s quarterfinal round will showcase Hockey East regular season champion Boston College hosting No. 8 Massachusetts on Friday. The Eagles (26-7-1, 20-6-1 HE) clinched the conference title on Saturday when they defeated New Hampshire, 4-3, on the road. BC swept UMass (6-21-6, 5-16-6 HE) in three games this season. The teams also met last year in the quarterfinals, when the Eagles won both games en route to their league-record ninth tournament title.

Another rematch of last year’s quarterfinals is in store when No. 2 New Hampshire hosts No. 7 Vermont. Last year, the Catamounts defeated the Wildcats on the road in the best-of-three series in the first-ever conference tournament meeting between the two teams. However, UNH took the season series, winning two games and tying in one this season.

No. 3 Boston University will entertain No. 6 Northeastern at the Agganis Arena. The two teams played a home-and-home series last weekend, with each team winning one on the road. BU (18-10-8, 15-6-6 HE) won the season series, 2-1. On Thursday night, the Huskies edged the Terriers, 4-2, to take the 1-0 lead in the series. After being knotted at one goal apiece late in the first period, Northeastern reeled off three scores in a span of under 11 minutes to take the lead for good. Steve Silva led the way for the Huskies offense, recording two goals while goalie Chris Rawlings made 37 saves in the victory.

No. 4 Merrimack will host No. 5 Maine, which bested the Warriors in this year’s season series (2-1). Both of Maine’s victories came during the weekend of Feb. 25, when the Black Bears swept the Warriors at home. The last time the two teams met in the playoffs was in 2004, when Maine defeated Merrimack in the quarterfinals en route to claiming the Hockey East Tournament title.

Hockey East is often considered to be one of the nation’s most competitive conference, as five of its 10 teams are ranked in the top 20 in the country. According to the USCHO national rankings, the Eagles finished the regular season at No. 2, Merrimack at No. 9, New Hampshire at No. 10, Boston University at No. 13 and Maine at No. 14.

After winning the Hockey East and the NCAA tournaments last year, the Eagles are the clear favorites to win the tournament. They’ve scored the most goals (131) and allowed the least (76) at the same. They are led by a slew of point-scorers, including junior Cam Atkinson (27 goals, 20 assists), senior Brian Gibbons (15 goals, 30 assists), sophomore Brian Dumoulin (2 goals, 26 assists), senior Joe Whitney (4 goals, 23 assists) and junior Jimmy Hayes (16 goals, 10 assists), among others. Aside from their offensive production, BC boasts senior goaltender John Muse, whose 23-5-1 record, 2.08 goals against average and 0.927 save percentage ranks among the best in the country.

Last year, the Eagles made relatively easy work of their opposition in the NCAA Tournament, knocking off Alaska-Fairbanks in the first round, 3-1, Yale in the quarterfinals, 9-7, Miami (Ohio) in the semifinals, 7-1 and Wisconsin in the championship, 5-0.

Steve Levine can be reached at slevine@student.umass.edu.

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