If there is one common denominator between Boston College and Vermont entering this weekend’s Hockey East quarterfinal series, it is that both teams are playing for their lives.
The winning team will not only see its season move on to TD Garden, but likely kick the other into the proverbial dust in the NCAA Tournament race as Vermont ranks 15th in the PairWise and BC in an 18th-place tie.
“They were great games we played,” BC head coach Jerry York said of the his team’s head-to-head series with Vermont during the second-to-last weekend of the regular season, which ended with two tied games.
“Either team could have swept or lost both games. The margin of error was very, very tight between the two clubs. It’s going to be a hard fought battle.”
The sixth-seeded Catamounts head to Chestnut Hill ― for the third straight season and fourth in the last five seasons in the league’s eight-team postseason round ― as winners in three of their last four contests, including last weekend’s postseason-opening sweep of rival Maine.
The Saturday night victory lifted Vermont to the 20-win marker for the third time in four years, a feat the program had not achieved since a three-year stretch from 1972-75.
“I don’t think the scores of 5-0, 5-1 really told the whole story. I think there were some huge momentum swings at various points in the series, much like any playoff run,” Vermont head coach Kevin Sneddon said. “To come away with two wins is great experience for our guys.”
Momentum swings were a theme when the two teams played their series three weeks ago at Conte Forum. Despite not trailing over the entire weekend, BC managed just 3-3 and 2-2 ties.
The Eagles’ unbeaten streak extended to seven games with those results and suffering a season-ending sweep at the hands of UMass Lowell. BC is 0-5-2 in that stretch and has not won since Feb. 3 at New Hampshire.
Seniors Austin Cangelosi and Matthew Gaudreau each scored points in three of their last four regular-season games, but the week of rest will surely help the Eagles during postseason play.
“When you’re on a roll, you want to play the next weekend,” York said. “I think we needed time to recover. As disappointed as we were not getting a point in our last series against Lowell, they played very well and that was part of the problem.”
After scoring just 28 combined points over his first three seasons as an Eagle, Gaudreau posted a team-leading 31 during the regular season. His seven goals nearly doubled his career total entering 2016-17. Meanwhile, Cangelosi led the club with 17 goals and sophomore Colin White had 15.
From a Vermont perspective, Brian Bowen was a large part of the result when the Catamounts were last at the Heights.
The Littleton, Mass., native sophomore posted three goals and four points in the series, and enters the postseason in the midst of an eight-game point streak. Bowen is tied with senior Mario Puskarich for the team lead in scoring as each boast 12 goals and 15 assists.
“He’s just playing like a power forward,” Sneddon said. “He’s strong over pucks. When he’s doing the little things well, he’s a tough player to defend.”
This series is the only in Hockey East between two teams that do not have an individual point per game scorer, although both teams averaged more than three goals.
Four different Vermonters scored two goals apiece in last weekend’s series, while Bowen posted three assists. Senior Brendan Bradley recorded a team-leading four points.
Entering the regular season’s final weekend, the Eagles had the opportunity to finish with the league title outright or drop to the third-place spot in which they stand.
BC has played in three Hockey East championship games as the No. 3 seed and won one. Still, it drew Vermont. The Eagles have postseason success against the Catamounts, having won seven of 10 quarterfinal games, one semifinal and the 2008 title.
“The chances of that happening are so slim, but we’re right back with Vermont,” York said. “Great respect for the way Kevin Sneddon has taken his club from really a slow start to pretty hot down the stretch. We know we have our hands full.”