As much as we were excited to write a breakdown of everything that went wrong against BC (Spoilers: A lot) instead, we’re going to congratulate Curtis Frye for his first collegiate appearance and save, Matt Thomson for his first career goal, which was a long time coming, and move on to something completely different.
Okay, fine, I’ll do it.
The truth is NU held strong on Thursday, playing a good first period and taking the lead before things came a bit unwound in the second. They came back for the third, almost tying the game on multiple occasions, but in the end it was a missed opportunity against a top five team because of a common theme this season, a young team that doesn’t quite play three consecutive periods of hockey. Friday was just a wash, from scoring one goal in garbage time, to bad defense, to bad goaltending from all three who attempted it. NU has one single win at Conte since the spring of 2008, so this isn’t an unexpected loss in their personal house of horrors, just surprising that it ended up as their worst loss in decades.
Now I can actually move on.
NU finished Friday at 14 in the Pairwise, but moved up to 12 by the end of the weekend, and honestly should have been 11 if not for a blown game by Alaska-Anchorage in the very late timeslot. College Hockey News runs their Pairwise Probability Matrix, which had NU at 93% in the tournament last week and dropped it to 81% now. A split with BC probably would have brought it up to 100% or to within decimal points of it, but they got swept and that’s life.
If you look at the breakdown of their possible finishes, NU probably needs to win the Hockey East tournament to have any chance at a 2 seed in the NCAA Tournament, while they finish as a 3 in the majority of scenarios and as a 4 or outside the field in the remainder. There’s a lot of Hockey East competition in that 2-3 matchup tier, with UMass hanging around the dead center of it pretty consistently in recent weeks, BC just narrowly exiting it by moving from 5th to 4th overall his weekend, and UML and Maine hot on their heels trying to make the field.
So while the current Pairwise rankings would lead one to believe NU will wind up in the east, or in Allentown at very least, that could change at the drop of the hat. They can’t control that though, they can only control converting on their 81% chance and bringing it to 100, and the way to do that is by winning hockey games starting this weekend.
Vermont, now over a year removed from their last Hockey East victory, is ranked about as poorly as you would think. As such, the only way to improve their position this weekend will be a sweep, and while “only” taking 3 points against the Cats wouldn’t be catastrophic to their chances, it would still knock them down a bit.
NU is also just one spot ahead of ASU in the current pairwise and the Sun Devils have already played their final regular season game, so NU will be competing with nobody but themselves to stay ahead of Arizona State.
On to the Hockey East side of things, we’ve been tweeting some of our Hockey East projections for a while, but figured it was time to put the full table and a little explanation behind it onto the site. Here are the numbers after this past weekend:
Tyler Madden will hopefully/maybe/probably/ideally/please be back after Vermont, and we “only” have NU taking an average of a bit under 3.5 points from the Catamounts in his absence, so this feels about right if not a little low. The first quick hit here is that we basically have NU projected in a tie with Maine for 4th right now, with both teams having about 27 points (they can’t actually finish with decimals, of course.) NU would win home ice in this theoretical 4th place matchup via the head to head tiebreaker.
But you can also see how close everyone else between 3rd and 7th is, an extra point by a team barely below or a dropped point from a team barely above is 100% going to happen as games are actually played, and these will 100% not be the actual final standings. So, while right now we do have NU hanging on to 4th place, if they’re going to convert on that projection, 6 points from the remaining games to get them up to 27 is the absolute minimum they should bank on needing, and honestly that may not be enough with Maine facing a sudden-disaster Providence team.
Outside the logjam between 3 and 7, BC and UMass will almost assuredly finish 1-2 in that order, and PC’s aforementioned incredible unexpected drop has put them in range of dropping behind UNH and into 9th. Various models have UNH with about a 30% chance of passing PC for 8th place and knocking them out for the right to go to Conte Forum. (The model I reference most is the Hockey East projection by RPI alum @lugnut92, who you can follow on twitter though he doesn’t post said model there. Others worth noting include playoffstatus.com and collegehockeyranked.com)
Lugnut’s model also projects first round matchups, for NU their most common opponents at this point (regardless of site) are Maine (26.3%), UML (20.6%), and UConn (20.6%), which I think is about what you’d expect considering you already knew they couldn’t reallatiscally draw BC, Vermont, Merrimack, UNH, or Providence outside of fringe scenarios.
The reason BU isn’t in that grouping with UML/Maine/UConn is because NU still has to play BU twice and neither team is in a home ice spot as we speak, so a sweep by one team or the other to get into the top four almost necessitates the other doing poorly and not getting up to 5-6 to make the matchup happen. Accordingly, there’s about a 20% projected chance that BU sweeps NU, and a corresponding 15.8% projected chance that NU finishes 7th and earns a trip to the Mullins Center.
So, in the end, it’s a game of wait-and-watch-the-team-play-hockey. They’re (extremely narrowly) more likely than not to play a home Hockey East quarter, but we’ll call it 50/50. They’re definitely more likely than not to be in the NCAA tournament field. But those likelihoods are dependent on them continuing to win hockey games at their past rate, and a collapse could still see them finish 9th in Hockey East and end their season in two weeks. Take it one game at a time and the math will work itself out.