Notre Dame, UMass Lowell, Providence, UNH Are Hockey East’s Final Four

hockey eastEntering last Friday, Boston College was the prohibitive favorite to take home its fourth Hockey East tournament championship in five years.

So much for that.

Notre Dame spoiled BC’s conference title aspirations by upsetting the Eagles in the quarterfinals and, in the process, created a wide-open race for the¬†Lamoriello Trophy.

Four teams remain as the tournament shifts to TD Garden for Friday night’s semifinals: No. 2 seed and defending champion UMass Lowell, No. 3 Providence, No. 4 UNH and the eighth-seeded Fighting Irish — the only team to win its quarterfinal series away from home ice.

Let’s take a look at the matchups.

No. 2 UMass Lowell vs. No. 8 Notre Dame — 5 p.m.¬†

BC’s dominance this season has caused many to discount UMass Lowell, despite the fact that the River Hawks still have the man who backstopped them to last year’s title, sophomore goalie Connor Hellebuyck, in net. Hellebuyck, the defending tournament MVP, has been the best goaltender in the conference this season, leading Hockey East in both save percentage (.938) and goals against average (1.87) while earning first-team all-conference honors. The Winnipeg Jets draftee has not been a brick wall in recent weeks, though, with the River Hawks losing three of his last six starts, including an overtime loss to Vermont in Game 2 of their quarterfinal series last weekend.

Notre Dame, meanwhile, comes in as arguably the hottest team in the field. The Hockey East newcomers outscored opponents 9-1 over their final four regular-season games to surge into the tournament, where they knocked off Boston University in the opening round before upsetting BC in a three-game quarterfinal series. Notre Dame’s roster is stacked with NHL draftees, and what the Fighting Irish lack in truly elite scoring talent — top scorer T.J. Tynan’s 37 points tie him for 10th in Hockey East — they make up for in depth. The Irish are the second-highest-scoring team remaining in the tournament (behind UNH) and boast four double-digit goal scorers.

No. 3 Providence vs. No. 4 New Hampshire — 8 p.m.

The other semifinal is a matchup of last season’s quarterfinals, a series the Friars won in three games before falling to Lowell in the semis. That loss was a goaltenders’ duel between Hellebuyck and Providence netminder Jon Gillies, who enters Friday night unbeaten in his last six starts. After years as a Hockey East also-ran, PC has morphed into a legitimate contender under head coach Nate Leaman and is the only team to reach the conference semis in each of the last three seasons. It’s been 13 years since the Friars took the ice in the title game, though, and 18 since they’ve won it all.

On the other side, UNH is making its first semifinal appearance since 2011 and just its second since 2008. Seniors Kevin Goumas (50 points) and Nick Sorkin (40 points) lead an explosive Wildcats offense that ranked third in the league in the regular season and smoked highly touted Northeastern goalie Clay Witt for 10 goals in three quarterfinal games last weekend. Goumas, a second-team Hockey East All-Star, recorded a hat trick in Sunday’s 5-4 series-clinching win. Another second-team selection, senior defenseman Eric Knodel, commands the blue line in front of junior goalie Casey DeSmith and is tied for second in the conference in D-man scoring (27 points).

Notre Dame-UMass Lowell will air on NESN beginning at 5 p.m. Providence-UNH will air on NESNplus at 8 p.m. The winners will face off in the Hockey East championship Saturday at 7 p.m. on NESNplus.

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