We have finally, albeit regretfully, entered the final weekend of the regular season. After 23 weeks of Hockey East regular season contests and exhibitions, it comes down to one weekend to decide the conference regular season title, the final home ice position and the final playoff spot.
Boston College is seemingly in the driver’s seat to take home the regular season title, as they hold a two point lead on Boston University and host Vermont this weekend. Boston University will play a home and home against a desperate Northeastern team that is fighting for the last playoff spot tied with UMass. If Boston College were to fall against the Catamounts and Boston University sweeps Northeastern, the Terriers would hold the head to head tiebreaker thus giving them the regular season crown and the number one seed heading into the tournament. UMass-Lowell would need two losses by Boston College and one by Boston University to have any chance. They are currently four points out of first and would need a three way tie.
As interesting as the battle for the top spot is, the battle for the final home ice berth and final playoff spot is just as interesting. In the battle for home ice UMass-Lowell, Maine and Merrimack are vying for the final two home ice positions. Maine enters the weekend in fourth place, one point ahead of Merrimack in fifth place but they have one less game than both the teams they are fighting with. Maine could easily be the team left out. UMass and Northeastern are tied for eighth place but both could conceivably get in if Providence gets swept. This scenario is unlikely so it comes down to Northeastern and UMass fighting for eighth. Here goes previewing the weekend and let the fun begin.
Vermont at Boston College (Friday and Saturday)
Boston College is fighting for the top seed and regular season title against last place Vermont, who has nothing to fight for but pride. Vermont is never an easy out and never goes without a fight. Any hockey fan that looks at this matchup would say neither of these games will be close, but it is Hockey East action and much stranger things have happened.
The Eagles were 7-0-0 in February and have won nine straight games since returning Parker Milner to the net, in late January. Milner was February’s defensive player of the month in Hockey East and has given up a mind boggling 0.98 goals per game. His play has been one of the many reasons that Boston College has come alive but in February BC averaged nearly five goals a game. They won’t lose another if those stats continue into the postseason.
Northeastern at Boston University (Friday), Boston University at Northeastern (Saturday)
Northeastern and Boston University will play the most important Hockey East series this weekend. Boston University, as mentioned above, will be going for the top seed while Northeastern will be fighting for their playoff lives.
The Huskies are currently tied for eighth place but would currently be on the outside looking in as UMass would hold the second tiebreaker for wins in conference play. Northeastern has some talent and needs to only look at their midseason stretch of wins out of conference to prove it. This weekend is do or die for them, as the continuation of their season depends upon maybe a four point weekend.
Boston University is currently two points behind Boston College for the top seed but the Terriers would hold the tiebreaker if BC were to fall once to Vermont. BU had a good response weekend up in Burlington last weekend and will be looking to build upon a weekend sweep of Vermont
Northeastern should start the ever struggling Chris Rawlings this weekend, despite his porous performance against Maine on Saturday. He made one save and let in three Maine goals in ten minutes of play on Saturday night. His play has been spotty this season and he has struggled mightily in the second half. Kieran Millan should start both games this weekend, but an apprerance by fellow senior Grant Rollheiser would not be a surprise this weekend.
UMass-Lowell at Providence (Friday), Providence at UMass-Lowell (Saturday)
UMass-Lowell has dropped a bit in the last few weeks after becoming the darlings of Hockey East. They still have a minimal chance of taking home the top seed but they could also end up out of a home ice position if they are swept by the Friars and the right cards fall correctly. Providence could finish as high as sixth but there is also a small chance of them falling out of the playoff picture.
UMass-Lowell began the season 19-7-0 but in the past few weeks has gone a less than stellar 1-3-1. In his last five games, Doug Carr is giving up over 3 goals a game and is stopping only 87 percent of shots he sees, which is a far cry from what he was doing earlier in the season. His struggles in the past few games could point to a larger issue, that comes with overworking a young goalie or could be just a funk that he will snap out of. I guess only time will tell.
Providence was outscored 10-0 over the weekend in a home and home against Boston College. They are currently winless in four games with two ties and are also 3-7-2 in their last 12 games. Alex Beaudry is another goaltender that has been struggling of late. He was pulled after the first period on Saturday giving up four goals. To have any success this weekend goaltending will need to step up.
Merrimack at UMass (Friday), UMass at Merrimack (Saturday)
UMass is in the driver’s seat for the final playoff spot and with 3 points Merrimack would clinch a home playoff series, so something has to give in this series. Merrimack won the first and only meeting so far this season 4-3 in early February.
UMass looked really good last weekend against New Hampshire in a loss and a tie. On Friday night, the Minutemen outshot the Wildcats 51-29 but ran into a hot UNH goalie, Casey Desmith who stopped 48 shots. The effort this weekend was phenomenal for UMass and they will need to back it up again this weekend. They currently are in the playoffs, tied for eighth because they own the tiebreaker over Northeastern.
Merrimack had their most successful weekend, in a three point effort last weekend, of the second half. Three points taken from any team Hockey East is quite the feat but doing so against rival UMass-Lowell had to be refreshing for a team that had been struggling mightily over the last month. The Warriors were a dismal 2-4-2 in February, which was easily their worst month of the season. The seven goals scored last weekend was their best weekend offensively since early January.
UMass started Kevin Boyle and Steve Mastalerz over the weekend. Mastalerz gave UMass the better effort and the win but Boyle has seven wins this season, while Mastalerz has 4. Jeff Teglia will also be in the mix this weekend so calling it will be quite difficult. Joe Cannata will get the starts for Merrimack this weekend.
New Hampshire at Maine (Saturday)
Maine enters the weekend in the fourth and final playoff spot. UNH on the other hand can finish no worse than seventh in the standings. The last meeting between these teams was the Frozen Fenway overtime game, where Maine won 5-4. UNH won the other meeting earlier in the season.
Maine split with Northeastern last weekend, including a trouncing 7-1 on Saturday night. The offense, which was on a two game hiatus, broke open in a large way led by Spencer Abbott and Joey Diamond. Abbott had 2 goals and an assist while Diamond had 2 goals and 2 assists. This line is the most dangerous in college hockey and when it is going, like it was on Saturday, it is scary for any team to stop.
New Hampshire enters this weekend off a split with a road split UMass. Friday night UNH won 4-3, but allowed 51 shots. If they give up 51 shots against Maine they are in serious trouble. UNH was 5-2-1 in February but has struggled to score goals. The four goal effort on Friday night was their biggest offensive output since mid January.
UNH should start Casey Desmith and Maine will start Dan Sullivan. Both goalies had a relatively successful February, starting all games for their teams during the month.