Highs of a seven-game win streak and lows of five straight losses with just three goals scored have led the Huskies to Agganis Arena this weekend for the Hockey East quarterfinals.
After splitting the regular season series with Boston University 1-1-1, No. 5-seed UConn will have a chance to record their first Hockey East playoffs series win against the 4-seed Terriers this weekend in a three-game series. UConn and BU will first drop the puck 7:30 p.m. Friday and again 7 p.m. Saturday. If necessary, a 5 p.m. game on Sunday will decide who moves on to the Hockey East semifinals.
Regardless of the outcome of the series, this has already been UConn’s most successful season since joining Hockey East in the 2014-15 season. This is the highest they have ever been seeded in the Hockey East postseason and it earned the Huskies an automatic berth in the quarterfinals, the furthest they’ve ever advanced.
Much of that is due to UConn’s run to finish the season. The Huskies won seven of their last eight games, including four wins over nationally-ranked opponents. One of those wins just so happened to be over BU.
On Feb. 16, the Huskies twice battled back from two-goal deficits to force overtime. Max Letunov put a dagger in the hearts of BU fans after he fought through contact and found the back of the net on a backhanded shot from the slot. Despite dropping the regular season finale to UMass, their play down the stretch should give them all the confidence in the world.
“I think we’ve found our identity,” team captain Derek Pratt said. “We were fortunate enough it to find it down the stretch and that’s being a hardnosed physical team and getting pucks to the net.”
The Huskies will certainly need to be at their best if they hope to knock off the Terriers. BU ranks third in Hockey East in both scoring offense and scoring defense. Junior Bobo Carpenter leads the team in scoring with 18 goals with freshman Shane Bowers closely behind, scoring 16 goals on the season.
BU also has reinforcements coming back from South Korea as Jordan Greenway returns to the lineup. Greenway was one of four college players to suit up for Team USA at the Olympics as one of the more offensively gifted forwards in college hockey. Add it all up, and the Terriers are one of the most talented and deep teams college hockey has to offer.
“They don’t really have that many weaknesses to be honest,” UConn forward Corey Ronan said. “They’re fast, they’re really offensive, they have a really good D-core, so we’re going to have to play some of our best hockey.”
However, UConn has a multitude of players that know how to put the puck in the net. Four different players, Spencer Naas, Alexander Payusov, Benjamin Freeman and Jesse Schwartz all have double-digit goal totals. It’s the first time UConn head coach Mike Cavanaugh’s team has toted this many prolific goalscorers since joining Hockey East and he believes it’s a major strength this time of year.
“I think balanced scoring is essential in the playoffs,” Cavanaugh said. “Balanced scoring throughout all our lines is something we’re going to need to be successful.”
Senior goaltender Tanner Creel has been a revelation in net since taking over for sophomore Adam Huska. His 2.67 goals against average would rank ninth in Hockey East if extended to the entire season.
Three years ago, this year’s senior class was swept out of the playoffs by UNH. They were the plucky underdog, making their first appearance in the Hockey East playoffs. They weren’t expected to win. Now, three years later, the Huskies have a very real chance to make some noise in the Hockey East playoffs. UConn has the scoring, the goaltending and the grit it takes to win in the postseason.
It’s been a long journey and an up-and-down regular season. But UConn’s path to prominence on the national stage is clear.
And it starts in Agganis Arena this weekend.
Bryan Lambert is a staff writer for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.