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UConn men’s hockey can make a run in the Hockey East tournament

After Friday night’s win, the Huskies have shown they can beat anyone on any given night and no one should be surprised if they make a run in the Hockey East tournament.

Ian Bethune/The UConn Blog

After UConn men’s hockey’s win on Friday, one might be able to say the vibes were good.

“It’s great,” senior forward Jesse Schwartz said. “It’s something I’ve never felt in my four years here. It’s new, it’s exciting and we’re just trying to keep it going.”

It makes sense. The Huskies had just come back from two separate two-goal deficits in the final frame and took down No. 20 Boston University in overtime, their first winner in the extra session since Feb. 27, 2016, when Corey Ronan lifted UConn from three down at the start of the third period against New Hampshire. That goal delivered the Huskies the opportunity to host a first-round series in just their second year in Hockey East.

Last Friday night, it was Maxim Letunov who brought UConn to victory with a backhander from just inside the right circle, one that was their seventh-straight win, tying a program record set in 1998-99, the team’s first year in Division I.

“We’ve won seven in-a-row,” senior defenseman Johnny Austin said. “Before that, our highest was three. Everyone’s pretty ecstatic.”

This streak looks a little different than that one. Four of these wins have come against ranked teams, and when the Huskies go into battle with a team who has a number next to their name this year, they are 6-4-2.

When the win streak started with a win over then-No. 10 Providence on Jan. 20, UConn was clinging to a first-round hosting spot, two points ahead of ninth place which was occupied by a team that had played five fewer games than they had.

Less than a month later, that same team is trying to barge their way into home ice in the quarterfinal round.

Hockey East Standings

Team Games Played Record Points Points per game
Team Games Played Record Points Points per game
Boston College 22 16-6-0 32 1.45
Providence 23 13-6-4 30 1.30
Northeastern 22 13-6-3 29 1.32
Boston University 22 11-8-3 25 1.14
Maine 22 10-9-3 23 1.05
UConn 23 11-11-1 23 1.00
UMass Lowell 22 10-12-0 20 0.91
Vermont 22 6-11-5 17 0.77
UMass 22 7-13-2 16 0.73
New Hampshire 22 5-12-5 15 0.68
Merrimack 22 6-14-2 14 0.64

It’s still an uphill battle and it’s one that’s mostly out of their hands, but no matter how the standings shake out, don’t be surprised if once March 16 rolls around, UConn is playing in one of the semifinals at TD Garden.

More so than most years, Hockey East lacks elite squads and there are a whole lot of teams in the middle 50 percent of Division I. As of the start of play on Feb. 17, two teams are in the top-15 of the Pairwise rankings, which would grant them an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament due to Atlantic Hockey not having a team in the top-16. Out of the remaining nine teams in the league, just two are below No. 45 out of 60 teams and four are between No. 15 and No. 30, with UConn sitting at No. 31.

As such, there has been a lot of parity in the league. The Huskies have wins against eight of the other 10 teams in the conference and have prevailed on the road against five of those teams. Most of the other schools in Hockey East can say something similar.

It’s going to come down to who has the momentum and who can step up two times out of three in the first round and in the quarterfinal. UConn is just as likely to be that team as their opponent.

Their seven-game streak is tied for the longest active one in the nation with No. 5 Minnesota State and since Nov. 21’s victory on the road against Vermont, the Huskies are 12-6-0 after a 3-10-2 start.

After Friday’s game, Boston University head coach David Quinn was able to evaluate UConn’s performance in February compared to October, when the Terriers took three points during a home-and-home series.

“I think they’re on the same page,” Quinn said. “They’re a good team. They’ve won seven in-a-row.”

He’s right. The Huskies are firing at all cylinders at the right time and they could easily parlay that into the program’s first Hockey East tournament win and more.