Hockey East Friday

If you’re a fan of Hockey East, the final two weekends of the regular season are marked off on the calendar, as the excitement picks up around the league rinks and teams jockey for playoff position.

This year, in particular, is as exciting as it gets, with six playoff spots still up for grabs and only one team, Providence, officially eliminated from playoff contention. There will be plenty of scoreboard watching throughout New England and every game is important. Only New Hampshire and Boston College have clinched playoff spots, so plenty is at stake.

We’ll start at the top of the standings, where the New Hampshire Wildcats still hold serve, leading the Boston College Eagles by just two points.

UNH has a home and home with Northeastern this weekend, and while UNH has been fantastic all season, the Huskies have defended Matthews Arena well, and a sweep for Dick Umile’s club is no easy task. Northeastern will be looking to bounce back from a 7-1 defeat at the hands of the Eagles on Sunday, while UNH comes off a three point weekend against Vermont. With a red-hot BC nipping at its heels and a final-weekend clash with the Eagles beginning next Friday, UNH can’t afford to drop four points. A BC loss, coupled with a UNH sweep, gives the Wildcats the regular season crown.

Meanwhile, Northeastern has even more on the line this weekend, as they have yet to clinch a playoff spot and trail rival Boston University by a point for the fourth seed and home-ice advantage in the quarterfinals. The Huskies need a bounce-back performance after that crushing loss to BC, and in particular goaltender Chris Rawlings needs a big game. Fortunately for Northeastern, Rawlings has stepped up against the top teams that come into Matthews Arena. He’ll have plenty to handle with Player of the Year candidate Bobby Butler in town.

Second-place BC hosts a struggling UMass-Amherst club on Friday night, and it’s a must-win for the Eagles if they want to control their own destiny next weekend. In the last two games, BC has outscored its opponents, 14-1, and has only lost twice at home this season. Meanwhile, the Minutemen sit tied for sixth place with UMass-Lowell and four points out of third place. However, Toot Cahoon’s squad are losers of five straight and seven of their last eight, and are in serious danger of missing the playoffs after a hot start. UMass will be looking to James Marcou and Casey Wellman to right the ship against a high-powered BC offense.

The team UMass is tied with, Lowell, plays a home-and-home with cellar-dwellers Providence, which in reality should be an easy four points for the Riverhawks. However, Providence is playing well, coming off a split with BU last weekend. Lowell split with Maine last weekend, and it has the benefit of playing three of its last four games at home. Lowell was picked by many to win the league this year, and will look for its huge senior class to close out the season strong and push for home-ice.

The team that currently owns the fourth seed, BU, travels to Burlington for a weekend clash with Vermont on Friday and Sunday. BU has played well at Vermont in recent years and four points will give them a leg-up on clinching home-ice. The weekend means a little bit more for ninth-place Vermont, as they trail a red-hot Merrimack by a point for the final playoff spot. Vermont played well at UNH last weekend and deserved more than the one point they earned. Vermont loses its tiebreaker with Merrimack, so every point is extra crucial as if the Catamounts finish tied with the Warriors, Merrimack plays on while Vermont sits home.

Speaking of the Warriors, Mark Dennehy’s club is certainly not used to being in the playoff mix with two weeks left in the regular season, but the Warriors are in good shape to make the playoffs for the first time since 2003-04. They host Maine this weekend, and the Warriors have been great at home, going 11-1-2 at Lawler Arena. Merrimack will be rooting hard for BU, and if the Terriers cooperate and Merrimack handles its business at home, the Warriors will be in the driver’s seat for a playoff spot.

All in all, it will be an exciting weekend of hockey, and we’ll have a better idea of what the playoff picture looks like come next weekend. We’ll have coverage from around the league here this weekend, and be sure to check back next Friday for a preview of next weekend’s action.

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