Hockey East Quarterfinals Preview: BC vs. Providence

boston college men's hockey

For the first time since Jerry York’s second year at the helm of Boston College men’s hockey, the Eagles (11-20-3, 10-11-3 Hockey East) finished with a losing record. They limped through the regular season, winning one non-conference contest and suffering losing streaks of five and six games, respectively. They enter the Hockey East Tournament as the No. 7 seed for the first time since 1993, but all isn’t lost in their draw—BC will face No. 2 seed Providence (21-9-6, 14-7-3) in the quarterfinal round, a team that the Eagles took two of three from in the regular season.

Aiming to advance to the semifinals at TD Garden for the fourth year in a row, BC will look to shake off a two-game losing streak—including a regular season-ending defeat to the Friars—and somewhat salvage an underwhelming year.

Who is BC playing?

No. 7 Providence

When is BC playing?

Friday, March 15, 7 p.m.
Saturday, March 16, 7 p.m.
Sunday, March 17, 5 p.m. (if necessary)

Where is BC playing?

Schneider Arena, Providence, R.I.

How to Watch/Listen:

Each game will be available through pay-per-view with Flo Hockey, or you can listen to radio coverage for free via WEEI 850 AM and BCEagles.com.

What to Know About Providence:

The Friars enter on the second-longest current unbeaten streak in the country, having won five of their last six with the lone outlier a tie against Boston University. Providence has additionally lost consecutive games just twice this year—a weekend sweep by No. 2 Massachusetts and back-to-back defeats to BU and BC. The consistency that head coach Nate Leaman has found in his squad is enviable, as the Friars finished the regular season leading the Hockey East in defense (1.86 goals allowed per game) and third in offense (3.14 goals per game).

The defense starts in net with senior Hayden Hawkey, who is no stranger to the big stage. Hawkey led the conference in goals against average (1.77), was fourth in save percentage (.923), and first in wins (21). He was impressive in last year’s tournament, too, and carries a hot streak into this weekend’s matchup. Over Hawkey’s past 12 games, eight of which were wins, the netminder registered three shutouts and posted a dominant 1.16 goals against average.

He’s got plenty of help in the back, as the Friars have a cohesive blue line anchored by 2017-18 Hockey East First Team selection Jacob Bryson. He’s paired with Spenser Young, a junior who paced Providence with a plus-21 net rating in the regular season. The lines are rounded out by the senior-freshman duo of Vincent Desharnais and Michael Callahan, followed by sophomores Ben Mirageas and Davis Bunz.

Up top, Leaman has a lot of depth in his forward lines. Josh Wilkins led the way in the regular season with 36 points (14 goals, 22 assists), the highest total in the conference of any non-UMass player. He’s flanked on the top line by second-round NHL Draft pick Kasper Björkqvist, who scored 15 goals, and star freshman Jack Dugan. The Vegas Golden Knights prospect had a breakout campaign, leading all Hockey East freshman with 32 points (10 goals, 22 assists). The second line of Brandon Duhaime, Patrick Conway, and Tyce Thompson is similarly dangerous, combining for 29 goals, while Greg Printz chipped in 10 goals from the third line this season.

Overall, the Friars are a tough draw for any team. They’re fifth in the conference in penalty minutes, but kill them off at an 86.8-percent rate, good for the fifth-best mark in the entire country. Pair that with the 19th-best power play in Division I hockey, and Providence is a handle to deal with on special teams. With Hawkey fully able of taking over a game—he’s tied for the nation lead in shutouts with seven—the Friars often find themselves in physical, low-scoring games. That’s not to say that the offense can’t unleash at times, as evidenced by a 6-1 win over then-No. 10 Massachusetts Lowell or a 4-1 victory against then-No. 8 Northeastern, but they’re also comfortable in close games.

Season Series:

The Eagles took the first two in Chestnut Hill, winning in successive weekends back in January. Despite struggling to string together consistent performances, BC looked good against the Friars each weekend. The first game, on Jan. 11, saw the Eagles erase a 2-1 first period deficit, scoring three unanswered for a 4-2 win. It was the Mattila brothers that secured the win, as Jesper found Julius with 1:28 left in the third period to break a 2-2 deadlock before Christopher Brown iced it with an empty netter.

The rematch, a little over a week later on Jan. 19, followed a much different script, with the Eagles largely in cruise control for a 4-1 win. The Friars were reeling from the start, with Michael Kim striking on the power play just three minutes in. It was a lead BC wouldn’t relinquish, as David Cotton added another nine minutes later. Providence would answer in the second, but Jesper Mattila and a Brown penalty shot in the third iced the win.

With a chance at the sweep, the Eagles played a tough first two periods at Schneider Arena last week but crumbled in the third of a 3-1 defeat. They allowed three straight Providence goals in the final period, digging a hole that they simply didn’t have enough time to get out of. BC goaltender Joseph Woll and Hawkey finished with 28 and 29 saves, respectively, but it was the latter who hung on and only allowed a goal with four minutes left and the outcome largely decided.

Outlook:

Providence is dangerous when scoring first, building a 16-1-5 record when doing so, as its defense is hard to crack when playing from behind. Still, if there’s any matchup that Leaman likely dreaded in the first round, it was the Eagles. Commonwealth Avenue has not been kind to the coach, as he’s gone just 12-24-8 against the combination of BC and BU—compared to 90-37-17 against the rest of the conference. The key for the Eagles to advance to the semifinals, however improbable winning two on the road against a surging Providence side is, will be to keep it low-scoring and close through the first two periods of play. Woll will have to keep up with Hawkey, which he proved capable of in the first two meetings—he held the Friars to three goals in two games before allowing three in the finale. The Eagles will also have to match Providence’s physicality, which wasn’t a problem last time out, and play some of their best hockey on special teams to pull off the upset in the quarterfinals.

Featured Image by Lizzy Barrett / Heights Senior Staff

Bradley Smart
About Bradley Smart 334 Articles
Bradley is the sports editor for The Heights. He believes that America does truly run on Dunkin, baseball teams should always wear stirrups, you can't outrun a bear, and being down 3-1, in anything, is never cause for concern. You can follow him on Twitter @bradleysmart15.