The fifth-​​ranked North­eastern men’s hockey team will play No.19 UMass Lowell in the Hockey East Semi­fi­nalsat 5 PM tonight at the TD Ban­knorth Garden.

North­eastern won all three reg­ular season match-​​ups against the River Hawks, including 3–0 and 3–1 vic­to­ries during a home-​​and-​​home series in late Feb­ruary. North­eastern hockey Coach Greg Cronin said the Huskies must gen­erate scoring chances in front of the opposition’s net, estab­lish a strong phys­ical pres­ence and limit UMass Lowell’s defenseman from joining the offen­sive rush in order to advance to the tour­na­ment cham­pi­onship on Sat­urday against the winner of the No. 2 Boston Uni­ver­sity – Boston Col­lege game.

The speed of UMass Lowell’s defen­sive group makes them a big chal­lenge,” Cronin said, empha­sizing the impor­tance of lim­iting the River Hawks’ tran­si­tional oppor­tu­ni­ties. “They play a smart defen­sive system and have three defenseman with 20-​​plus points, which is unusual.”

Team cap­tain Joe Vitale, named Hockey East’s Best Defen­sive For­ward ear­lier in the week, said UMass Lowell is “one of the hardest teams to play against in the league.” Keys to vic­tory include estab­lishing a strong backcheck and main­taining a pos­i­tive mental approach, he said.

We have to come out of the gate with more energy and estab­lish momentum right away,” Vitale said.

The Huskies advanced to the second round of the play­offs for the first time since 1994 by beating the Mass­a­chu­setts Min­utemen, two games to one, in a quar­ter­final series at Matthews Arena. Its game three over­time win gavethe club 25 wins this season, tying the school record set during the 1981–82 campaign.

Cronin praised Northeastern’s fans for ener­gizing the team – espe­cially after losing the first game of the quar­ter­fi­nals series 2–1. “I don’t know if we would have won the series if it was played at UMass,” he said. “The energy in [Matthews Arena] played a big role in our ability to manage a very slip­pery three-​​game series.”

He pointed to his teams’ matu­rity as the main reason for its accom­plish­ments. “Our seniors’ con­fi­dence is unwa­vering,” he said. “We are the only team in the country that didn’t lose back-​​to-​​back games this season. That reflects our con­sis­tency as a group.”

Northeastern’s suc­cess in the Hockey East play­offs will impact its NCAA Tour­na­ment posi­tioning, Cronin said. The Huskies could earn a No.1 seed in the NCAA Tour­na­ment, which begins March 27, if they win the con­fer­ence cham­pi­onship for the second time in school his­tory and for the first time since 1988.

It’s exciting to think we could be part of his­tory,” Vitale said. “But we’re not going to look too far ahead right now. Our focus is on Friday night and we’ll take it from there.”

Fans can watch North­eastern play UMass Lowell on NESN at 5 PM tonight.