It took longer than anticipated, but once Ryan Fitzgerald's wrist shot went into the back of the net to send Boston College past Vermont, the field was set for the 2016 Hockey East Semifinals.
The Eagles, the No. 1 seed, will face sixth seeded Northeastern in the second semifinal at approximately 8 p.m. In the biggest shock of the quarterfinals, the Huskies swept Notre Dame in South Bend. The first semifinal should be a dandy between No. 2 Providence and No. 4 UMass Lowell. The Friars swept Merrimack in two hard-fought games while the River Hawks somewhat shockingly made quick work of Boston University in two games.
Boston College took the regular season series over Northeastern with a win and tie, but the games were very close. The Eagles had to rally from 2-0 and 3-1 deficits to pull off a 4-3 win and Northeastern got a goal in the final minutes to escape with a 3-3 tie in the other game.
The Friars and River Hawks traded off wins on home ice in the regular season series between the two clubs. Providence won 4-2 at Schneider Arena while UMass Lowell pulled off a 3-1 at the Tsongas Center.
UMass Lowell is the only team in the field to have made it a year ago. The River Hawks are at the TD Garden for a fourth consecutive season, having won the Lamoriello Trophy in 2013 and 2014.
The Eagles, a mainstay at the TD Garden in Jerry York's tenure, had failed to advance to the semifinals two years in a row. BC has won the Lamoriello Trophy nine times since 1998, but not since 2012, the last of three consecutive post-season titles.
Providence, the defending NCAA Champion, was upset by UNH in the quarterfinals last season. The co-regular season champion with BC, Nate Leaman's team will be vying for its first Hockey East Tournament Championship since 1996.
Northeastern, the surprise entrant, has only one Hockey East Tournament Championship to its resume, coming in 1988. The Huskies are making their first trip to the TD Garden for the league semifinals since 2011 when they also faced the Eagles when Greg Cronin was head coach.
Five thoughts from the weekend
- Northeastern's improbable run continued with 3-1 and 6-4 wins over Notre Dame to sweep the Fighting Irish. The Huskies are 18-1-2 over their last 21 games after starting 2-12-3. However, most observers thought that remarkable turnaround would come to a screeching halt in South Bend. It did not. Instead, it seems even more possible that this streak can continue. The top line of John Stevens centering Nolan Stevens and Zach Aston-Reese had been grabbing many of the headlines. The fourth line scored three times in the sweep of the Irish. Kevin Roy had two goals and two assists with both goals coming at even strength. Sans a few goals in garbage time, Ryan Ruck was as good as he needed to be in net. The Huskies have a tall task to upset BC at the TD Garden, but it should be a wildly entertaining game.
- Outside of Northeastern, no team enters the semifinals as a hotter team than Providence. The Friars have won 10 in a row after sweeping Merrimack. Nate Leaman seemed pleased with his team's ability to fight past the Warriors, a team that plays a grind-it-out style that emulates playoff hockey. How was life going to be without Jon Gillies? That was the million dollar question everyone asked in the preseason. Junior Nick Ellis has started all but one game during the current 10-game winning streak. His 1.06 goals against average and .958 save percentage speaks for itself.
- Speaking of goaltenders, how foolish must John Micheletto feel? The recently fired UMass head coach thought so poorly of Kevin Boyle that he cut him from the Minutemen following the 2012-13 season. It's under a better system, but the senior from Manalapan, NJ set the UMass Lowell school record for most shutouts in a season Saturday night. He recorded 24 saves in the 5-0 victory for his seventh shutout on the year. It was his 10th in a River Hawks jersey. He's developed nicely under the tutelage of goaltending coach Cam Ellsworth. Most notable is his improvement in tracking pucks and minimizing second chance opportunities by cutting down on rebounds.
- It's tough to pick against the River Hawks this weekend. Not only is Kevin Boyle playing well, UML is playoff tested and Norm Bazin always gets the most out of his teams. Another good sign was the team's best players all came to play against BU. Leading scorer C.J. Smith had two goals and two assists. Adam Chapie (1 goal, 2 assists), Joe Gambardella (2 goals, 1 assist), Nick Master (2 assists) also had good weekends.
- There is absolutely no doubting that BC has more high end talent than any other team in the semifinals. However, there was a lot to dislike in its game three performance against Vermont. The Eagles eked out the win in overtime thanks to a Ryan Fitzgerald goal, but they were beaten to a lot of loose pucks and seemed lackadaisical. There were a lot of passes and sequences where the Eagles tried to be too cute which led to turnovers in bad spots at untimely moments. Injuries and other issues have thrown players into roles and lines they are not familiar with. As talented as the team is, it's a younger team, which doesn't always bode well come playoff time.