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Hockey East Quarterfinals Preview: Keys to BU-Northeastern Series

John Corneau/SB Nation

With the exception of approximately seven minutes in the second period of the series finale, the two games Boston University and Northeastern played in the regular season were deadlocked on the scoreboard.

The Terriers scored three times in 7:02 in the second period of the game at Agganis Arena to skate away with a 3-0 win. The two teams played to a 4-4 tie a night earlier at Matthews Arena.

“We know how good they are. We know we have to play smart, disciplined and execute well. Our kids are excited and ready for the challenge,” said Northeastern coach Jim Madigan.

BU, the Hockey East tri-regular season champion, is the second seed and facing the eighth seeded Huskies. The games will be played on Commonwealth Avenue. All signs on paper point to a Terrier win in this series, but there’s plenty of reason for optimism for the team residing on St. Botolph Street.

Northeastern’s Finally Healthy

Northeastern is finally healthy and has two lines that can score at an uncanny rate. Hobey Baker Memorial Award favorite Zach Aston-Reese leads an explosive offense that boasts three players who have surpassed 50 points for the season.

However, Aston-Reese has both his linemates back and healthy. Center John Stevens and his brother, winger Nolan Stevens, now give Northeastern two fully-loaded top lines.

Now, the Huskies have Adam Gaudette and Dylan Sikura anchoring the second line. Both players have pumped in over 50 points while the Stevens brothers and Aston-Reese make up the top line.

“Healthy bodies helps. If the Bruins took out Marchand and Bergeron, they would feel it. We were resilient in finding ways to win games. When you get all your assets and pieces together, good things happen. The top two lines are contributing offensively,” said Madigan.

Even the third line, with two NHL Draft picks, was clicking last weekend against UConn. Brendan Collier picked up a goal each night with Matt Filipe assisting on both.

“The Collier line had a greet weekend,” said Madigan. “They work well together and compliment each other. Filipe has great wheels and speed. Brendan is a little more of a cerebral player. They hounded pucks. They had a lot of good chances. They scored two big goals for us. We’re going to need them to keep producing like that.”

Goaltending Battle

With all the firepower these two teams boast, it might sound funny to suggest this series will be a goaltending battle. However, on paper, Boston University has the superior goaltending in this match-up. The play of the two men between the pipes could decide who wins this series.

Jake Oettinger, a 2017 NHL Draft prospect, has been terrific in net all season, despite being a young freshman. The Lakeville, Minn. native was recently named a finalist for the Mike Richter Award, presented to the top goaltender in college hockey.

Oettinger is a big prototypical modern era goaltender who combines athleticism, size and fundamentals to take away space for shooters to shoot. He has a .927 save percentage and four shutouts, but missed out on a fifth against the Huskies because he had to come out of the game for a skate issue.

However, Northeastern sophomore Ryan Ruck has been playing better as of late. After the first 20 games, his save percentage stood at .885. He’s moved the needle up to .896 thanks to a .910 save percentage over the past 15 games.

“He’s had a real good last 15 games,” said Madigan. “Ryan was excellent [last] weekend. He was assertive and aggressive at the net front.”

Ruck will need to be on top of his game and not give up any soft goals if the Huskies are going to stand any chance this weekend against the Terriers fast-paced offense.

Terriers Maturing

There has perhaps never been a more scrutinized team in college hockey than the 2016-17 Terriers. David Quinn’s club went 21-10-3 overall and 13-6-3 in Hockey East, earning a three-way share of the Hockey East Regular Season Championship.

However, when a team has 10 NHL Draft picks, including four first rounders from 2016 alone, expectations are sky-high. On paper, BU has the most talent of any team in the nation, but what is often forgotten is that most of its key players are 18, 19 or 20 and going up against much older players in college hockey.

“The higher the level you get to, it’s just a different game. Because we have so many freshmen and sophomores, sometimes we can be immature,” said Quinn.

The Terriers won two of their final three games, including a 4-1 triumph over Notre Dame on senior night to tie UMass Lowell and BC for the regular season crown.

“We’ve been a little bit inconsistent and maybe a little bit immature, but it seems that we’ve done a much better job over the last two weekends of playing a smarter brand of hockey,” Quinn explained.

With the bye into the quarterfinals, BU almost had two full weeks to prepare and regain some of its mojo from earlier in the season.

“A great way to be confident is work hard and have a great practice. You just don’t show up at the rink on a Friday and feel confident. Your confidence is predicated on the amount of work you put in on your craft from a physical and mental aspect,” said Quinn.