Breaking down the Hockey East playoff picture: 2/22

By Scott McLaughlin/DFP Staff

Four of the five series in Hockey East this past weekend went pretty much as expected. Boston University swept Providence, Merrimack swept Massachusetts, Maine swept Massachusetts-Lowell and New Hampshire took three of four points from Vermont.

The one that didn’t go as planned was Boston College vs. Northeastern. The fact that they tied Friday night wasn’t a big surprise considering the Huskies pushed the Eagles to the limit in last Monday’s Beanpot championship.

But Northeastern winning Saturday night to take three of four points from BC was definitely a bit of a shock, especially when you take into account that the Huskies were without head coach Greg Cronin and assistant Albie O’Connell, both of whom have been suspended indefinitely for possible recruiting violations.

This weekend’s results give us these current standings (taking tiebreakers into account):

1) UNH – 35 points
2) Merrimack – 33 points
3) BC – 33 points
4) BU – 31 points
5) Maine – 26 points
6) Northeastern – 24 points
7) Massachusetts – 15 points
8) Vermont – 15 points
9) Providence – 12 points
10) UMass-Lowell – 6 points

Before we get into how I think the final two weekends of the season will shake out, let’s take a look at the Terriers’ options moving forward.

Believe it or not, BU is still very much alive in the race for the regular-season crown. If the Terriers grab all eight points left on the schedule, UNH gets four of eight or less (a realistic possibility given its schedule), and Merrimack and BC each take fewer than six of eight, BU would finish first. Although the chances of all that happening are unlikely at best, it’s not an entirely far-fetched scenario.

UNH is the only team ahead of BU that the Terriers own the head-to-head tiebreaker against. They won the season series against the Wildcats two games to one, but lost the season series against Merrimack (0-1-2) and BC (0-3-0). Merrimack owns the tiebreaker against each of the other three teams still fighting for first. UNH currently owns the tiebreaker against BC, but they still play each other twice more.

Looking behind BU, the Terriers can clinch a top-four spot and home ice in the first round with just three more points. If BU gets three points and Maine wins out, the two teams end up tied and the Terriers get fourth because they won the season series against the Black Bears (1-0-2).

Northeastern would have to sweep BU the last weekend of the season and get at least three more points than the Terriers this weekend in order to finish ahead of BU.

Given that the Terriers are playing eighth-place Vermont this weekend and both games are at Agganis Arena, I fully expect BU to take care of business and wrap up home ice this weekend.

Speaking of what I expect, let’s get to how I see the final two weekends of the regular season unfolding.

Feb. 25/26
Vermont at BU
After starting the year 2-9-4, Vermont has posted an improved 5-8-2 record since winter break. BU is still the more talented team, though, as evidenced by the fact that they beat the Catamounts 4-2 in Burlington on Jan. 9 despite playing one of their worst games of the year. Plus, the Terriers know pretty much all their remaining games are must-wins if they want to make NCAAs.
Result: BU sweeps

UNH vs. Northeastern home-and-home
Northeastern was already having a very good second half even before taking three of four points from BC, as the Huskies are now 8-3-3 this semester. UNH has slowed a little since losing just two games in the first half, but the Wildcats are still 8-5-1 in the new year. This has the makings of the best series of the weekend.
Result: Split

Merrimack at Maine
Merrimack is 14-1-0 this semester and without question the hottest team in the conference. Maine was under .500 in the second half before sweeping UMass-Lowell this weekend. Still, Alfond Arena is a tough place to play and the Black Bears haven’t been swept there yet this year. I think they force a tie in one of these games.
Result: Merrimack takes three of four points

BC vs. UMass home-and-home
Think BC will be hungry after losing a weekend series for the first time all season? I do. Add in the fact that UMass is 3-11-2 this semester and this is an easy pick.
Result: BC sweeps

Providence vs. UMass-Lowell home-and-home
Providence is 1-10-2 this semester. UML is 2-10-0. Yawn.
Result: Split

That gives us these standings heading into the final weekend of the season (again, tiebreakers are accounted for):

1) UNH – 37 points
2) BC – 37 points
3) Merrimack – 36 points
4) BU – 35 points
5) Maine – 27 points
6) Northeastern – 26 points
7) UMass – 15 points
8) Vermont – 15 points
9) Providence – 14 points
10) UMass-Lowell – 8 points

March 4/5
BU vs. Northeastern home-and-home
The Terriers and Huskies match up pretty evenly on paper and they matched up pretty evenly in their first meeting this season, a 5-4 BU win on Dec. 8. Should be a good series.
Result: Split

UNH vs. BC home-and-home
As you can see from the standings above, there will be plenty on the line in this series. Either one can clinch first with a sweep, but anything less opens the door for Merrimack to take the top spot. Even though I think BC is a better team, I don’t see a sweep.
Result: BC takes three of four points

Merrimack vs. Providence home-and-home
In this scenario, Merrimack clinches the one seed with a sweep and anything but a sweep in the UNH-BC series, or with three points and a UNH-BC split. I don’t foresee the Warriors having any problems with the Friars.
Result: Merrimack sweeps

Maine at UMass
The Black Bears are much better than the Minutemen, but sweeping any Hockey East team on the road is tough.
Result: Maine takes three of four points

UMass-Lowell at Vermont
The Catamounts are playing better than the River Hawks this semester, they’re at home and they’ll be hungry after the series against BU.
Result: Vermont sweeps

So that gives us a tie for the regular-season title. Because Merrimack went 2-1-0 against BC this year, the Warriors would get the No. 1 seed. Now there’s a sentence I never thought I’d type. Anyway, here are the final standings if things play out the way I expect:

1) Merrimack – 40 points
2) BC – 40 points
3) UNH – 38 points
4) BU – 37 points
5) Maine – 30 points
6) Northeastern – 28 points
7) Vermont – 19 points
8) UMass – 16 points
9) Providence – 14 points
10) UMass-Lowell – 8 points

That means the Terriers would host Maine in the quarterfinals. In last week’s breakdown, I said BU fans should be happy to get the Black Bears instead of the Huskies because Northeastern has much better goaltending than Maine. But now Northeastern’s Chris Rawlings has given up 15 goals in his last three games while Maine’s Dan Sullivan has recorded two straight shutouts, so what do I know?

I still think the Black Bears are the slightly easier opponent, but neither Maine nor Northeastern is going to be an easy out in the playoffs. Getting into the top two and facing either Vermont, UMass or Providence would be the best-case scenario for the Terriers, but I don’t see that happening.

2 thoughts on “Breaking down the Hockey East playoff picture: 2/22”

  1. Ironically enough, getting into the top two could end up hurting BU in the end if we’re forced to play UVM or UMass in the QF’s, neither of which is a TUC, and both are so bad that wins over them in the QF’s would not help our RPI much at all, forcing us to win one or both games at the Garden. Should we draw Maine, that could be the best scenario with respect to having the best chance to make the tournament, since were we to advance past them, those two wins would be much better for our RPI and our TUC record, and could put us in a situation where winning both games at the Garden was not necessary. So goes the PWR.

  2. True. I was obviously coming at this from the “easiest road to the Garden” point of view. But yeah, facing Maine would be good for BU as long as Maine remains a TUC. Northeastern has a tough road in front of them to become a TUC. Even if they do, they might not get far enough up to withstand two quarterfinal losses and stay a TUC.

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