Who: No. 12 Notre Dame (19-10-5) vs. Providence (22-9-5)
When: 7:35 p.m. tonight; 7:05 p.m. Saturday; 7:05 Sunday (if necessary)
Where: Compton Family Ice Arena; South Bend, Ind.
Radio: 94.3 FM (WZOC)
Notre Dame hockey is uniquely equipped for its Hockey East quarterfinal matchup.
No. 10 Providence returns to South Bend for a best-of-three series as one of the hottest teams in the country, having gone 13-1-1 in its last 15 games. That tie and loss came in the same weekend — a two-game regular season set against the Irish last month.
No. 12 Notre Dame handed the Friars a 4-1 defeat one night and rallied three times for a 3-3 tie the next. Providence has since reeled off four more wins, all against UMass.
“I don’t really know what their weaknesses are,” said center Jake Evans. “I think they’re a good team. We realized how tough they are to play against and how good we’re gonna have to play against them. Weaknesses, I don’t really see anything. I think we just realize how tough it’s gonna be and how simple and hard we’re gonna have to play to take out these guys.”
Notre Dame is 5-1-2 in its last eight games and coming off a bye through the first round of the conference tournament after finishing fourth during the regular season. Boston University handed the Irish that lone loss.
Snuffing out Providence’s momentum last month, albeit briefly, might not have provided the Irish a window into much other than how they have to play moving forward.
“I thought we did a really good job coming out of our zone,” said head coach Jeff Jackson. “I thought the second night they clamped down on that. I thought they did a better job on their forecheck and back pressure and forced us to turn pucks over more. I’m sure it’ll be the same way again. They probably figured out how they have to play to beat us with that tie game where they were ahead three different times.
“On the other side, we probably have a better idea how they’re going to pressure us in the offensive zone and through the neutral zone with their forecheck in the neutral zone. We just have to make sure that we’re really focused on trying not to turn pucks over in those areas of the ice.”
Handling that pressure will probably decide the series.
If the Irish do it, they’re on to the Hockey East semifinals at the TD Garden in Boston next week.
“Once you get to the playoffs, everything is magnified,” Jackson said. “A turnover, a penalty, a lost face off, all those little things add up. When you get to this point in the season you hope your team is doing all those little things well. For the most part over the last several weeks, we have been doing a lot of detail work better, which has allowed us to have a little bit more success.
“We just have to understand how teams are gonna play us too. Regardless of us doing a much better job back there, they’re still gonna try to apply pressure to our defense.”
Having faced Providence recently should give the Irish an extra layer of preparation. But it will take an efficient weekend to move on to the semifinals. Avoiding turnovers at the blue line, which sometimes lead to breakaways and easy opportunities on goal, is a point of emphasis.
Notre Dame has been able to steer clear of those situations lately. But that won’t stop teams from dialing up the forecheck.
“I think first and foremost it’s important to get it out of the zone and not create any turnovers,” said defenseman Dennis Gilbert. “Like I said, not giving things up without them earning it. The second thing is getting the line or finding one of those skilled forwards to make a play in space. Just a first good pass and being that second layer of offense to follow the play up.”
Petersen named Richter Award finalist
Goalie Cal Petersen is one of 10 semifinalists for the Mike Richter Award, given annually to the top goaltender in college hockey.
Petersen ended the regular season with a 2.12 goals-against average and .927 save percentage with five shutouts. His goals-against average ranks 10th nationally while his five shutouts lead Hockey East and is second in the country.
Five finalists for the award will be named March 23 with a winner revealed April 7 at the Frozen Four in Chicago.