Last Night: Hockey East Playoff Picture

Posted by: Joe Meloni

The final night of the Hockey East regular season is upon us. The new playoff format has eliminated the type of drama we’re accustomed to. Every team qualifying for at least the preliminary round means each club has at least one game to look forward after Saturday night’s regular-season finale.

Here’s a look at where it all stands now, and what everyone has to lose.

The Champion

Boston College locked up the top seed in the Hockey East Tournament a couple weeks ago, picking up yet another trophy for legendary head coach Jerry York.

The Eagles were idle on Friday, but they host Notre Dame Saturday night at Conte Forum. Within the league, BC has nothing to gain, but a win over the Fighting Irish is especially important for BC in its quest to be the No. 1 overall seed for the NCAA Tournament. Moreover, it’s always an important game when BC and Notre Dame meet in any sport.

Highest Possible Finish: 1st
Lowest Possible Finish: 1st

Home Ice and Byes

Aside from Boston College, the second- through fourth-seeded clubs are guaranteed home ice in the best-of-three Hockey East Quarterfinals two weeks from now. These teams also get byes from the first round games.

UMass-Lowell

Joe Houk’s game-winning goal with 11 seconds remaining in overtime on Friday night locked up home ice for the River Hawks. Northeastern’s loss to Boston University clinched the No. 2 seed for UML. Ultimately, the River Hawks have to be a little disappointed they didn’t challenge BC more for the league’s regular-season title. However, the next few weeks are where UML can try to avenge that.

Like BC, nothing can change for the River Hawks within Hockey East no matter their fate after Saturday’s game with Vermont. Also like BC, however, is the significance of the game for UML on a national level. The River Hawks are essentially a lock for the NCAA Tournament, but their placement depends on their finish to the regular season and performance in the Hockey East playoffs.

Highest Possible Finish: 2nd
Lowest Possible Finish: 2nd

Northeastern

Northeastern coach Jim Madigan called Friday’s 4-1 loss to BU the “worst performance of the season” for his team. It’s never a good time for a poor effort, but it was especially troublesome for the Huskies. A win over the Terriers would’ve locked up the No. 3 seed for the Huskies heading into the league playoffs. At this point, Northeastern has clinched a bye in the first round with one game remaining.

The Huskies host BU tomorrow night. They enter the evening tied with Providence for third place. However, a win still clinches third because Northeastern owns the tiebreaker with the Friars by virtue of winning the season series between the clubs. A loss for the Huskies could be especially devastating. Even with a guaranteed bye to the quarterfinals, NU can still fall to fifth place in the league, which would put it on the road in the quarterfinals.

Outside of Hockey East, Northeastern has its eyes on the NCAA Tournament. The loss to BU dropped the Huskies to 10th and another one could push them to the bubble. They’re in pretty good shape, but nothing is guaranteed. A poor end to the weekend along with a tough matchup in the quarterfinals would put an end to the Huskies’ season.

Highest Possible Finish: 3rd
Lowest Possible Finish: 5th

Providence

Providence went to Maine on Friday night and did something no visiting team has done since November — won. A convincing 4-2 win over the Black Bears came at a perfect time with every other team in the 3-7 range losing. At the start of the weekend, PC looked like the most likely team to fall out of the race for a bye. A loss tomorrow night, along with some other results, could undo it all. Still, Friday’s win positioned PC well heading into Saturday’s game.

With a win, PC clinches home ice in the quarterfinals. Even then, their exact seed will depend on other results, but a win will mean PC finishes no worse than fourth. A loss, along with a New Hampshire win over Merrimack, drops PC down to sixth by virtue of losing a tiebreaker with UNH. Ultimately, as it stands for PC, winning is all that matters.

Victories are even more important for PC as far as a favorable Pairwise position goes. PC vaulted into 11th after defeating Maine, which is a pretty safe place at the moment. A loss could undo a lot of that progress and drop the Friars back to the bubble. A five-game winless streak put PC on the bubble in the first place. Its current three-game win streak has helped correct some of that. Defeating Maine Saturday night and performing well in the Hockey East playoffs is a must if the Friars hope to return to the NCAA Tournament.

Highest Possible Finish: 3rd
Lowest Possible Finish: 6th

Maine

Losing to Providence on Friday hurt Maine in every way imaginable. The Black Bears are still alive, but they’ll need a win tomorrow night to lock up home ice and a bye. It’s simple enough for Maine. Defeating Providence on Saturday locks up at least the No. 4 seed for Red Gendron’s club. A tie with PC will give the Friars the advantage over the Black Bears. Should Maine win and get some help from BU, the Black Bears could finish as high as third.

A loss can drop Maine to as low as sixth should UNH also get two points from its game with Merrimack. The Black Bears’ possibilities are as convoluted as anyone’s.

It’s difficult to see Maine making a push for an at-large bid in the NCAA Tournament without a win tomorrow and a run in the Hockey East Tournament. The Black Bears dropped to 19th after Friday’s loss, and it’ll only get worse without a win on Saturday.

Highest Possible Finish: 3rd
Lowest Possible Finish: 6th

New Hampshire

Friday’s loss to Merrimack was devastating for the Wildcats. A win solves nothing for UNH without help from other teams. Currently in sixth, UNH can move up to fourth. However, it can also fall as low as seventh, at which point they’d have to play into the Hockey East Quarterfinals.

A win on Friday, along with losses by Northeastern and Maine, vaults the Wildcats into fourth place. Again, asking for that much help is never a favorable proposition. If Merrimack completes the sweep of UNH on Saturday, the Wildcats fall to seventh should Vermont defeat UMass-Lowell.

The Wildcats are in even more difficult position in regard to the Pariwise. Like Maine, dropping to around 20 is essentially a death sentence this late in the season. A run to the Hockey East Championship Game seems like the only real hope the Wildcats have to get back to the NCAA Tournament.

Highest Possible Finish: 4th
Lowest Possible Finish: 7th

First Round Home Ice

One of the new wrinkles in the Hockey East Tournament is the set of play-in games between the clubs in sixth through 11th. This format will only exist this season with Connecticut coming to Hockey East next year. These are winner-take-all games. There are no series. It’s still not clear when these games will take place, but it’s likely for one to be played next Friday night with the remaining two on Saturday.

The bottom three spots in this range are decided. BU, Massachusetts and Merrimack occupy the ninth, 10th and 11th positions and will travel for this round. BU and UMass can finish tied for ninth. However, the Terriers own the tiebreaker with the Minutemen and have clinched ninth place as a result.

Vermont

The Catamounts cannot earn a bye into the quarterfinals. Their overtime loss to UMass-Lowell on Friday wiped out all hopes of that. UVM, however, will get one home ice game in the Hockey East Tournament. With a win over the River Hawks on Saturday, UVM can finish sixth, but this depends on UNH losing to Merrimack. Should the Catamounts end up tied with Notre Dame, UVM would get the higher seed by virtue of a tiebreaker. The same is true if its deadlocked with UNH after the Catamounts swept the Wildcats in Durham.

Strangely enough, UVM is still very much alive for an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament. Currently ranked 15th, a win over UML Saturday night would help the Catamounts greatly. However, moving into safety in any way would require a win tomorrow and a run in the Hockey East Tournament. Any upsets in conference tournaments would likely squash the Catamounts hopes of making that field of 16.

Highest Possible Finish: 6th
Lowest Possible Finish: 8th

Notre Dame

Things are pretty simple for Notre Dame. A win and a Vermont loss puts the Fighting Irish in seventh place. A loss locks Notre Dame into the eighth position in Hockey East and sets up a date with BU in the preliminary round.

Like Vermont, Notre Dame is still very much alive for an at-large bid. The Fighting Irish are just ahead of UVM in 14th in the Pairwise. Traveling to Boston College Saturday night means an chance to earn a major road win. Life on the bubble isn’t easy this time of year, but UND is lucky to be there with just eight wins in Hockey East play.

Highest Possible Finish: 7th
Lowest Possible Finish: 8th

Everyone Else

Like I said above, BU, UMass and Merrimack are locked into the bottom three seeds in the league tournament no matter the results Saturday night. BU is at Northeastern at defeating the Huskies on Friday. Merrimack hosts UNH for the second night in a row. UMass’ regular season is over.

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