There can be advantages to entering a postseason tournament as a lower seed.
To say the odds do not favor the University of Maine hockey team this weekend is a huge understatement.
The Black Bears finished 11th among 12 teams in Hockey East and will head to Boston this weekend to take on a sixth-ranked Northeastern team that swept Maine out of Matthews Arena just last weekend.
On paper, everything in this first-round, best-of-three series favors the Huskies.
Northeastern has lost just one game – in the first round of the Beanpot to Boston University – since January. The Huskies are on a seven-game winning streak since a Feb. 5 tie with UMass Lowell, and have scored at least four goals in all of those games, including a 7-1 pasting of Maine in the regular-season finale.
Maine’s only win in its last eight games has come at the expense of Merrimack in a game in which the Black Bears allowed the Warriors to score two goals with the goaltender pulled before clawing out a victory in overtime. Maine racked up 50 penalty minutes in Saturday’s loss to Northeastern. It’s uncertain whether leading scorer Will Merchant will play this weekend against the Huskies.
Even though Maine comes into this series as an 11th seed, the pressure is all on Northeastern.
The Huskies, arguably the hottest team in Hockey East, have to win just two games in their own building against a Maine team that owns only two road wins, both against last-place UMass.
Maine should use this to their advantage. The Black Bears have nothing to lose coming into this series. We all know how difficult it is to play a team four (or five, if this series goes the distance) consecutive times. Coach Red Gendron’s team has shown that it can compete with the nation’s elite, as evidenced by ties against Quinnipiac and North Dakota, the country’s top two teams. The darkness of losses to the likes of Colgate and Princeton can be erased to a degree with a first-round upset.
Northeastern knows it likely needs to win the Hockey East tournament to make the NCAA Tournament, with the Huskies entering this weekend’s play ranking 22nd in the PairWise rankings that mimic the NCAA Tournament selection process. There’s nothing the Black Bears would love more than to spoil Northeastern’s playoff dreams. In the Huskies’ building. Merrimack did the same thing last March.
It would also be a huge boost to Maine’s rebuilding process if the Black Bears can find a way to steal this series. Goaltenders Rob McGovern and Matt Morris will have to make big saves when the moment arrives. Scoring threats such as Nolan Vesey and Blaine Byron will have to find a way to put the puck in the net. Maine will also need to close out games in the 3rd period, as evidenced by the second game of the Merrimack series, a movie Black Bear fans have seen all too often since the 2002 Frozen Four.
Hopefully, this scrappy group of Black Bears can give their fans something to cheer about this weekend. There’s nothing more dangerous than a team with nothing to lose.