Who: No. 14 Notre Dame (18-9-5) at No. 5 Boston University (20-9-3)
When: 6:05 p.m. tonight; 7:05 p.m. Saturday
Where: Agganis Arena; Boston, Mass.
Radio: 94.3 FM (WZOC)
TV: ASN (Friday only)
Hockey East schedulers couldn’t have designed a better final weekend.
Over the next couple nights, every team in the league will wrap up the regular season with their last two games. Six of them are vying for the top four spots in the standings, which comes with a bye through the first round of the playoffs and the right to host a quarterfinal series.
Here’s a look at the standings heading into tonight’s games:
- Boston College - 29 points
- Boston University - 27 points
- UMass-Lowell - 27 points
- Notre Dame - 26 points
Lowell jumped into a tie for second with a 4-1 win Thursday over Boston College. They’ll finish the two-game series tonight. Providence is fifth with 23 points followed by Vermont with 22.
Notre Dame, meanwhile, heads east for a two-game series with Boston University. One point out of the four available clinches the Irish a top four spot. They can finish no worse than fifth in the standings thanks to the potential tiebreakers.
“The hottest teams are the ones that do the most damage this time of the year and I think we’ve found ourselves to be one of the hottest teams right now in the country,” said goalie Cal Petersen. “Certainly, in Hockey East. I think with the opportunity of being able to at the very least try and clinch a first round bye and at best get a share of the regular season championship, that’s really what we want.”
Boston University (20-9-3, 12-5-3) represents a hefty challenge as one of the most talented teams in the country.
Six Terriers represented Team USA in the World Junior Championships earlier this year — forward Kieffer Bellows, forward Patrick Harper, goalie Jake Oettinger, forward Jordan Greenway, defenseman Charlie McAvoy and forward Clayton Keller.
Another, defenseman Dante Fabbro, suited up for Team Canada.
Keller leads Boston University with 17 goals and 35 points. Arizona selected him seventh overall in the 2016 NHL Draft.
“They recruit like Kentucky basketball,” said Irish coach Jeff Jackson. “They bring in all first rounders. They’ve got a lot of talent and Dave Quinn is a good coach. He’s building something there. He’s only been there for three years and he’s getting a lot of the top young Americans in the country and a few Canadians too. He’s got a nice squad.”
Notre Dame (18-9-5, 11-5-4 Hockey East) might just be uniquely positioned to handle the coming onslaught of speed and skill.
Petersen is playing some of his best hockey of the season. He nabbed defensive player of the week honors from the league earlier this week after posting a 1.92 goals-against average and .942 save percentage last week against Providence.
He’s led the Irish to a 4-0-2 record in their last six games.
Facing a prolific offensive team — Boston University dismantled New Hampshire last Saturday, 8-4 — means Petersen must be at the top of his game.
“He’s gonna have to be our best player,” Jackson said. “That’s just in most cases, most nights. We didn’t need him to win (last) Friday night but we certainly needed him on Saturday. That’s the way it goes. There’s gonna be games where we’re not quite as sharp or the opponent is better and he’s gonna have to be the difference maker. That’s what he has to do.”
Petersen, although aware of the stakes and the opponent, is quick to point out the defense in front of him has been better the past month and he’s not going to prepare any different.
He’s optimistic that will continue to be a winning combination.
“I think it really starts with the D just making really simple plays and concentrating on pucks going north,” Petersen said. “Not spending too much time in our zone. I think that’s great. If we kinda frustrate them and not do what we did at Boston College and have it be kind of a track meet, back and forth, they’re too talented to go up against them like that. I think we have to stick to our game and realize how we’re gonna beat them and how we’re successful. That’s taking care of the puck and being good defensively.”