Merrimack coach Mark Dennehy - Merrimack Athletics
The league and national ramifications are especially significant for Merrimack tonight as the Warriors travel to Boston University for a big game against the Terriers.
Two rescheduled Hockey East contests will be played Tuesday night in Boston, and there will be no shortage of urgency at both arenas. UMass-Lowell travels to Chestnut Hill to take on Boston College while Merrimack visits Agganis Arena for a match-up with Boston University.
There will be significant ramifications in both the Hockey East standings, as well as the Pairwise Rankings for all the teams involved. That is especially the case for Merrimack as a win could push them back up to 19th in the Pairwise, but a loss could send them plummeting to 29th.
The Warriors have lost twice already to BU this season so this will be a tough test. However, the Terriers are not playing as well as they did when the two teams met earlier in the year. Merrimack must put a lot of pressure on BU's transition game and challenge the Terriers on the forecheck. BU has been mistake prone lately. If Merrimack can rattle the nerves and create pressure it could result in turnovers. Outside of Mike Collins, Merrimack lacks finishers. Even as hot as Shawn Bates has been lately, he creates a lot more chances than he finishes. Mark Dennehy's team must take advantage of opportunities. Another key for Merrimack is to avoid mental errors themselves. Both BC goals on Sunday were caused by a defenseman pinching and failing to get back. The overtime game winner was a direct result of a defenseman pinching. The third man for BC on the ensuing rush was left open. That allowed BC's Quinn Smith to bury the game winner.
BU must score early. As Jack Parker has said a few times over the past month, his team is gripping their sticks too tight. They are afraid of making the wrong play or unsure of what to do with the puck. If BU can use their superior skill to jump out to an early lead, that will bode well for their chance at picking up two points tonight. Another key is to limit the amount of time on the penalty kill and time in the defensive zone. BU is shorthanded when it comes to blue liners as injuries and suspensions have taken a toll.
Switching gears to the game over at Conte Forum, both UMass-Lowell and BC come in on a high note. The River Hawks swept BU over the weekend to win all three of the games in the season series. BC exacted some revenge by downing Merrimack in overtime, just over a week after being handed the same fate by the Warriors.
BC will welcome back the services of junior Kevin Hayes who will add size and help the depth up front. The Chicago draft pick will play with determination after his three game suspension. Steven Whitney has been hot, scoring 10 goals on his last 10 games. Johnny Gaudreau has been relatively silent of late.
The keys to victory for UMass-Lowell is riding a hot freshman goaltender. Connor Hellebuyck has been terrific and is now fully healthy again. The offense really seems to be clicking and generating great puck movement as evidenced by their total territorial dominance of BU Saturday night.
With huge league and national ramifications tonight, these two games should be great showcases of what Hockey East has to offer. Expect two tight games that could be decided in the final minutes.
Jeff Cox covers college hockey for SBNation. Follow him on twitter @JeffCoxSBNation.