If Irish hockey makes a postseason charge it will do so by beating ranked competition.
Hosting No. 10 Providence this weekend is the start of a brutal stretch to finish the regular season. A road series at No. 2 Boston University follows. A home series against No. 11 Boston College wraps up the schedule before the Hockey East playoffs.
Boston University (26 points) is atop the league with Boston College (22), UMass-Lowell (20) and Providence (19) giving chase. Notre Dame is in fifth with 18 points, making the Providence series a crucial start to the final three weeks.
“We’ve got four games at home out of the six against the top teams,” said winger Mario Lucia. “We have to utilize our building, utilize our fans. It’s important to hopefully get three out of four wins in our building then hopefully get a couple wins on the road, steal a win. It’s not gonna be easy to go into BU and steal wins, so we’re gonna have to play our top game.”
Notre Dame takes a 12-14-4 overall record into the Compton Family Ice Arena, where it has struggled. Home ice has yielded just a 6-7-3 mark, with just one win since Oct. 31.
But the Irish are 2-1-1 over the last two weeks after splitting a series with New Hampshire at home then taking three points at Maine. Facing Providence represents a chance to not only get to .500 on the season but also leap frog into a top four spot in the league. That would give the Irish a bye and home-ice advantage to start the Hockey East playoffs.
“We can’t focus on where we’re gonna be a month from now,” said head coach Jeff Jackson. “We have to focus on right now, Providence. They’re a top 10 team in the country, they’re above us in the standings and they’re certainly a challenging opponent. We have to focus on playing Friday night right now and that’s gotta be our only priority.”
Providence (17-9-2) has allowed a league-low 25 goals in 16 games. Goaltender John Gillies leads the Hockey East in goals-against average (1.64) and save percentage (.948) in conference games.
Gillies, a third round pick of the Calgary Flames in the 2012 NHL Draft, is an imposing figure at 6-foot-5 without skates. He stopped 50 of 55 shots in a loss and tie to Notre Dame last season, so the Irish have something of a formula to beat a big goaltender.
“They cover so much net that you do get nitpicky and start looking for holes that aren’t there,” Jackson said. “It’s more important to get pucks on him and get traffic to the net. You’re probably more likely to score off deflections and rebounds than you are any other shot.”
Fogarty lost for regular season
Captain Steven Fogarty is likely done for at least the next three weeks after breaking a finger at Maine last weekend while blocking a shot.
“He’s probably done for the regular season by the looks of it,” Jackson said.
Fogarty has six goals and 10 assists this season while also distinguishing himself as perhaps the best defensive forward on the roster. He has 26 blocked shots, a plus-2 rating and is winning 51 percent of his draws.
Jackson moved Peter Schneider to top line center in place of Fogarty last Saturday alongside wingers Sam Herr and Austin Wuthrich. Defense will be a focus for that group without Fogarty.
“He’s easily probably our best defensive forward,” Herr said. “He’s playing up against every top line, so it’s gonna put a lot more emphasis on everybody else helping backward, back checking and stuff like that. We’ve gotta make sure we’re bearing down on that aspect.”
Petersen snags Hockey East award
Goaltender Cal Petersen garnered Hockey East defensive player of the week accolades after helping Notre Dame to a tie and win at Maine.
Petersen allowed just one goal in 85 minutes while making 43 saves, good for a .977 save percentage. He stopped all 10 shots Friday after entering the game for Chad Katunar to preserve a 4-4 tie. He made 33 saves Saturday in a 5-1 win.
Rugged slate awaits
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