Game Previews

Terriers continue title defense with semifinal game against Maine

Photo by Gracie Davenport.

With just under five minutes left, Northeastern captain Justin Hryckowian scored a goal to bring the Hockey East quarterfinal bout within one. Then, just 26 seconds later, BU freshman forward Macklin Celebrini took matters into his own hands.

Celebrini’s goal was the icing on the cake, all but confirming the Terriers’ place at TD Garden. In a year where Hockey East has dominated headlines with six teams in the top 20, BU had defeated every team in the conference in regulation with Northeastern now crossed off the list. 

BU now needs to prove it can compete when the lights are the brightest when the No. 2 Terriers (25-8-2) face off against the No. 7 Maine Black Bears (23-10-2) Friday night to once again earn a spot in the Hockey East championship game.

“You work all year to get opportunities like this. This is the fun part when you’re competing for a championship, and I know our guys are excited,” head coach Jay Pandolfo said Thursday. “This is the time of year you get excited for.”

Experience often comes at a premium during the postseason, especially in a locker room that hung the Hockey East banner just one year ago. However, BU’s freshman class headlined by Celebrini has already proven its novelty doesn’t affect performance.

“Those guys are always ready to work, and they’re always excited for challenges,” sophomore defenseman Lane Hutson said Thursday. “If they ever need anything, they know the older guys are there for them, me included, but we know we’re ready and we know they’re ready as well.”

Mathieu Caron is another player experiencing the limelight for the first time in his collegiate career. Caron never experienced a deep playoff run in his two years between the pipes at Brown. This season, the junior goaltender has played at Madison Square Garden for Red Hot Hockey and TD Garden for the Beanpot. 

“I feel extremely comfortable playing in those big rinks, so it’ll be a lot of fun to be back there,” Caron said Thursday. “It’s just letting the game play itself and not trying to do too much, and at this point, I’m just feeling good, feeling confident.”

Caron has started every single game for the Terriers this season, staying in a good “rhythm” for the playoffs. He has logged a 2.29 goals-against average and a .917 save percentage across that stretch the third-best rank in the conference. Caron has been especially dominant in the home stretch of the regular season, only allowing three or more goals once in the last nine games. 

Photo by Gracie Davenport.

Caron has also been provided ample support from the offense. After an overtime loss to Providence on Feb. 16, Pandolfo shuffled every line and defense pair, leading to a surge in offensive production. Since then, the Terriers have averaged over five goals scored per game.

While the offense is rolling, the defense may be down a key member with graduate student defenseman Cade Webber dealing with a lower-body injury. Webber took an awkward hit on the glass last Saturday, and was helped down the tunnel. However, he was back to the ice by the end of the game. Pandolfo said he would be a “puck-drop” decision at the Garden. 

Webber blocked an NCAA-record 118 shots this season and received Hockey East’s Best Defensive Defenseman award.

“The minutes he logs are really meaningful minutes and he does jobs that no one else really does,” Hutson said. “Seeing him go down, it was really, ‘Let’s find a way to win for him.’ But when he came back, it pushed us over the edge.”

The last time the Black Bears and the Terriers battled was a two-game series back in November where BU walked away with the sweep. However, the two one-goal games had a combined 15 penalties and seven power-play goals. 

Special teams may once again be a focal point on Friday as both teams rank top four in Hockey East powerplay units.

“They have a really good power play. They use two units, both units spread out evenly, and they both have been producing for them,” Pandolfo said. “There’s no question they’re dangerous.”

The winner of this game will face either No. 1 Boston College or No. 13 University of Massachusetts in a Championship that is sure to be a tall task. The final four of Hockey East also boasts four Hobey Baker finalists, including both Celebrini and Hutson. 

“Every team in Hockey East this year is an extremely talented team,” Caron said. “It’s pretty great for college hockey and the Hockey East conference as well, so definitely pretty special to be a part of.”

Photo by Gracie Davenport.

Five things to know about the Black Bears: 

  • The bulk of Maine’s scoring comes off the sticks of freshmen forward brothers Bradley and Josh Nadeau, who each have recorded 45 points for the Black Bears this season.
  • The Black Bears are advancing to the semifinals of Hockey East for the first time in 12 years.
  • Freshman goaltender Albin Boija has earned the majority of starts recently with a .921 save percentage and just under two goals allowed per game.
  • The Black Bears endured a skid in February, losing five games in a six-game stretch. However, they have strung four in a row since, including a dominant 5-0 win over UNH in the quarterfinals. 
  • Maine has a distinct home advantage with a 13-2-2 record at Alfond Arena and an 8-8 record away. However, the Black Bears are 2-0 at neutral sites.

Puck drop is set for 7:30 p.m. at TD Garden. The Boston Hockey Blog will have full, on-the-ground coverage so be sure to follow along on Twitter (X) @BOShockeyblog and Instagram

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