Two weeks remain in the regular season and the regular season crown could still mathematically go to five different teams. Boston College has the slimmest of margins over second place UMass-Lowell, at one point. Boston University is in third place, one point behind UMass-Lowell and two points back of Boston College. Maine has a hold on the final home ice spot and is two points ahead of fifth place Merrimack.
The battle for the final playoff spots will take center stage this weekend as New Hampshire heads to Amherst to take on the Minutemen. UNH currently has a four point cushion over Northeastern and UMass, who are tied for the eighth and final playoff berth, but this could all but evaporate if the Minutemen can sweep the Wildcats on home ice. A win by UNH this weekend would clinch them a playoff spot, as they defeated UMass 7-3 early in the season, and would give them the tiebreaker. Northeastern may have the toughest road to the final playoff spot with two games against Maine this weekend and two against Boston University next. Providence sits one point ahead of New Hampshire in sixth place, while Merrimack sits four points ahead of Providence for fifth.
In terms of the Pairwise and the national tournament Hockey East is still in good position to get four, maybe five teams in. Boston College is currently sitting at the top of the Pairwise, while UMass-Lowell sits quietly in a tie for second place. Boston University sits in sixth place and Maine sits in eighth. Merrimack is currently on the bubble in 16th, but would be on the outside looking in. Here are my weekly words on the games this weekend.
UMass-Lowell at Merrimack (Friday), Merrimack at UMass-Lowell (Saturday)
Two weeks ago, UMass-Lowell sent 42 shots toward Warrior goaltender, Joe Cannata and won 3-0. In that game Cannata was the star but the Warriors could not score on 31 shots. The problem has been chronic for Merrimack in the second half of the season. The Warriors are winless in their last four games and were swept by Boston College over the weekend.
The River Hawks have the most balanced statistics in the league as they are third in offense and second in defense. Doug Carr has continued to be a rock for Lowell in net, starting 20 consecutive games, but his numbers have pared off a bit in the last three weeks. Going into the series against Vermont, Carr had a goals against average of 1.80 but in the last three weeks his numbers aren’t as impressive as he has given up 2.64 goals per game, including seven against Boston University last Friday night.
One should expect a goalies duel in the matchup as Doug Carr will matchup against Cannata. Points are at a premium in this game as the River Hawks are fighting for the regular season crown, one point behind Boston College, and Merrimack is battling for a home ice berth, one point behind Maine. This game will also have a huge impact on the Pairwise.
New Hampshire at Massachusetts (Friday and Saturday)
New Hampshire heads to Amherst to take on the Minutemen for a key weekend series that will go a long way in deciding the last playoff spots. With one win UNH will secure a playoff spot. In the first meeting between these two schools, in early November, UNH overpowered Massachusetts in a 7-3 win.
UMass had a huge upset win over Maine last Saturday up in Orono and are looking to build on that in the coming weeks. In the win, the UMass defense was impressive in allowing a strong Maine team only 22 shots. Kevin Boyle did his part in stopping 21 of the 22 shots and he has seven of UMass’ 11 wins on the season.
New Hampshire enters the weekend off a disappointing split at home against Vermont. On Friday night the Wildcats were stunned in overtime after holding the lead with only 14 seconds left in the game and on Saturday night the defeated Vermont 3-1. Casey Desmith continues to impress in net. Currently, Desmith is second in Hockey East behind Doug Carr for GAA and save percentage. Despite giving up four goals on Friday, Desmith rebounded nicely on Friday by giving up just one goal on 29 shots.
Boston College at Providence (Friday), Providence at Boston College (Saturday)
Boston College has officially molded into its usual self coming down the stretch and is one of the hottest teams in college hockey. Providence continues to hold onto the sixth place spot in the Hockey East standings and is currently on a four game unbeaten streak after tying two games last weekend with Northeastern. Boston College won the first meeting of these teams 4-1, in December.
Boston College swept Merrimack College last weekend and has continued to get great goaltending from Parker Milner. Milner has gone 7-0-0 since his return to the Eagles net about a month ago and has given up a stingy 1.62 goals per game in those starts. The Eagles, in their four game winning streak, are scoring on average 4.14 goals per game while only giving up 1.71 goals per game. No question the Eagles are the hottest team in the country.
Providence has been mightily inconsistent this season but in the end they are still in a position that few thought they would be coming into the season, in sixth place. Alex Beaudry has been consistent since his debacle against Boston University in two straight games exactly a month ago. Since these two games, Beaudry is allowing a very consistent 2.33 per game and stopping 91 percent of shots he sees. His success, or lack thereof, going forward will determine the direction of the Friars in the last few weeks.
Maine at Northeastern (Friday and Saturday)
Maine is in the battle for first place, but has one less game than everyone else at the top and Northeastern is fighting for their playoff lives sitting tied for eighth. Maine defeated Northeastern in the teams only meeting of the season, the second week of the season, 6-3.
Maine enters the weekend two points ahead of Merrimack for the final home ice spot and will look to put an even bigger cushion this weekend. Last weekend Maine looked poised to sweep the weekend after defeating UMass 7-3 on Friday, but UMass pulled the shocker and defeated the Black Bears 4-3 on Saturday. Dan Sullivan continues to get all of the starts for Maine and this will continue in the coming weeks.
Northeastern enters the weekend winless in five straight games and can officially be called the streakiest team in Hockey East. Chris Rawlings has become more consistent in the past week but two ties against Providence won’t help them get into the playoffs. His performance has gone with the teams and the Huskies will look to him the next couple weeks.
Boston University at Vermont (Friday and Saturday)
While most of the college hockey world has focused on Boston University this week I have tried to detract by sticking to hockey, but there is no denying that it has been a tough week for the Terriers. The loss of Max Nicastro to rape charges means the Terriers have lost three players this season, one to defection and two to misbehavior of the worst nature.
With the Terriers sitting in the third position, two points behind Boston College they need to recover quick starting this weekend. Kieran Millan had a very inconsistent weekend against UMass-Lowell, where he gave up 8 goals in two games. BU is one and three in their last four games. This weekend is a must four point weekend, if the Terriers want to win the regular season crown.
Vermont earned its sixth win of the season on Friday against New Hampshire. The Catamounts received solid goaltending by Rob Madore all weekend, which has something that has not happened often this season. Madore will have to come up huge against BU this weekend for Vermont to come out with a win, but maybe the Catamounts are catching the Terriers at exactly the right time?