Boston College has dominated just about every facet of Hockey East this year. Sporting a regular season record of 16-2-2, there weren't too many roadblocks for an Eagles team that all of February was ranked the top program in the nation. But one of the teams that was able to solve BC is rival Notre Dame.
On Friday night, the Eagles and Irish begin a three-game series that will send one team to the Hockey East semifinals. And despite being the eight seed, the Irish present quite possibly the biggest test to Boston College in all of Hockey East.
Only two teams in conference were able to defeat Boston College all season, and only one was able to do it on the Eagles home ice at Conte Forum, and that was Notre Dame just last weekend. The Irish scored in the second period to take the lead, and then won it in overtime 2-1 on the stick of Vince Hinostroza. When the teams first met earlier in the season, it was an outdoor affair in Fenway Park that saw five lead changes in a 4-3 BC victory. So while the rivals split their two games, when Notre Dame travels to Boston, they'll do so with the confidence of having just won at Kelley Rink.
The only major change between the first and second matchup was the Eagles' goalie, as Thatcher Demko has been Boston College's starter since late January. The freshman has been nearly unbeatable, and hadn't been defeated in his 12 starts before the Irish were able to solve him in their Hockey East finale.
There's obviously a lot at stake as far as Hockey East in this series, but Notre Dame is also a team looking to solidify a spot in the national tournament field, while BC has virtually locked that up. Both times these teams met this season, BC had already established its new, incredibly effective top line of Johnny Gaudreau, Bill Arnold, and Kevin Hayes. Jeff Jackson's side struggled to contain the trio the first time it saw them at Fenway, but in last week's matchup, a lone-Gaudreau goal in the third period accounted for all of the Eagles' offense. With Gaudreau on a 29-game point streak, but holding that line and that team to just one goal is something Jackson or any other coach in the nation would take. Boston College only managed 20 shots on goal, a testament to a complete defensive effort from Notre Dame. They won't be able to completely shut down BC (especially the top line), but figuring out ways to limit them will be the biggest key for the Irish all weekend.
On the other end of the ice, Notre Dame will look to its top guns to lead the way. Guys like T.J. Tynan, Mario Lucia, and Hinostroza. They'll try to crack a Boston College back-end comprised with four freshmen from the net out. Along with the aforementioned Demko, Steve Santini, Ian McCoshen, and Scott Savage are all first-year players. Inexperience hasn't hampered that group, as its physical play blended with good offensive skills has made it a tough group to play against all season.
Last week's tilt between these two teams featured 21 players already drafted by NHL teams, with 10 for the Eagles, and 11 for the Irish. Demko will almost certainly be a first round pick in this June's draft. Gaudreau by all accounts will be handed the Hobey Baker trophy in April. What does all the that mean? This series will feature a lot of talent on both ends, and a lot of names you could be hearing down the line.
For more pregame notes, and for live updates of tonight's game, and the entire series, follow me on Twitter @ev_sporer.