Breaking down the BU playoff picture: 3/1

By Scott McLaughlin/DFP Staff

We’re heading into the final weekend of the regular season, which means it’s time once again to break down BU’s playoff possibilities. Last year at this time, there were way too many scenarios for where BU could finish for me to go through all of them — I had to wait until the last day of the season to do that.

This year, it’s a lot more cut-and-dried. The Terriers can finish as high as second or as low as fifth (last year, it was as high as third or as low as ninth). Here is what it will take for BU to finish in each of those four spots:

Second
-BU sweeps Northeastern and UNH sweeps BC
or
-BU sweeps Northeastern and BC sweeps UNH

Third
-BU sweeps Northeastern and the UNH-BC series results in anything but a sweep
or
-BU takes 3 points from Northeastern and Merrimack takes 3 or fewer points from Providence
or
-BU takes 2 points from Northeastern and Merrimack takes 2 or fewer points from Providence
or
-BU takes 1 point from Northeastern and Merrimack takes 1 or fewer points from Providence
or
-BU gets swept by Northeastern and Merrimack gets swept by Providence

Fourth
-BU takes 3 points from Northeastern and Merrimack sweeps Providence
or
-BU takes 2 points from Northeastern and Merrimack takes 3 or more points from Providence
or
-BU takes 1 point from Northeastern and Merrimack takes 2 or more points from Providence
or
-BU gets swept by Northeastern and Merrimack takes 2 or more points from Providence
or
-BU gets swept by Northeastern, Merrimack takes exactly 1 point from Providence, and Maine takes 3 or fewer points from UMass

Fifth
-BU gets swept by Northeastern, Merrimack takes exactly 1 point from Providence, and Maine sweeps UMass

So BU can clinch a top-four spot and home ice for the Hockey East quarterfinals if any of the following happen Friday night:
-BU beats or ties Northeastern
or
-Merrimack beats Providence
or
-Maine ties or loses against UMass

At the other end of the spectrum, BU can be eliminated from the race for second if any of the following happen Friday night:
-BU ties or loses against Northeastern
or
-UNH and BC tie

So no matter what happens, the number of spots the Terriers can finish in will be reduced by at least one after Friday night. They will either clinch home ice or be eliminated from the race for second. There’s a chance both could happen and BU’s options could be narrowed to finishing third or fourth. Here’s how:
-BU beats Northeastern and UNH and BC tie
or
-BU ties Northeastern
or
-BU loses to Northeastern and Merrimack beats Providence
or
-BU loses to Northeastern and Maine ties or loses against UMass

The Terriers cannot get locked into second, fourth or fifth Friday night, but they could end up locked into third by the end of the night. Here’s how:
-BU beats Northeastern, UNH and BC tie, and Merrimack loses to Providence

If you’ve been following my breakdowns for the last couple weeks, you know I like to include my own predictions as well. Here are my picks for this weekend:

BU vs. Northeastern home-and-home
Northeastern is already locked into a sixth-place finish in the conference and has no shot of getting an at-large bid for the NCAA tournament, while BU is still fighting for positioning as well as an NCAA tourney invite. Needless to say, the Terriers have more to play for this weekend. That said, I don’t see a sweep because the Huskies have been playing well all semester.
Result: BU takes 3 of 4 points

UNH vs. BC home-and-home
Neither team is really playing its best hockey right now — UNH is 2-2-2 in its last six and BC is 2-1-1 in its last four — but I expect a great series here with the regular-season title on the line. I think the Eagles are the better team, but I’m feeling a split here.
Result: Split

Merrimack vs. Providence home-and-home
Providence is fighting for its playoff life, but Merrimack is a vastly superior team. Plus, the Warriors will be hungry after getting swept by Maine last weekend.
Result: Merrimack sweeps

Maine at UMass
Maine is playing its best hockey at the right time, as it has outscored opponents 22-3 during a five-game winning streak. UMass is 0-8-2 in its last 10. This could get ugly.
Result: Maine sweeps

UMass-Lowell at Vermont
UMass-Lowell is eliminated from the postseason and playing for nothing except pride at this point, while Vermont is still battling for a playoff spot. I just have a feeling the River Hawks find a way to force a tie in one of these games, though.
Result: Vermont takes 3 of 4 points

That would give us these final standings with tiebreakers taken into account:
1) UNH – 40 points
2) BC – 39 points
3) Merrimack – 37 points
4) BU – 37 points
5) Maine – 34 points
6) Northeastern – 26 points
7) Vermont – 19 points
8) UMass – 15 points
9) Providence – 13 points
10) UMass-Lowell – 10 points

And these quarterfinal series:
1) UNH vs. 8) UMass
2) BC vs. 7) Vermont
3) Merrimack vs. 6) Northeastern
4) BU vs. 5) Maine

As good as Northeastern has been playing, I think you’d have to say Maine is the tougher draw between those two right now. It was easy to dismiss the Black Bears outscoring UMass-Lowell 7-0 in a sweep two weekends ago because, well, it was UMass-Lowell. But it’s impossible to ignore them outscoring Merrimack 11-1 in a sweep this past weekend.

The upside of BU getting Maine, though, is that it gives them two more games against a Team Under Consideration (TUC) in the PairWise. For those who don’t fully understand the PairWise, just know that wins over TUCs help a lot more than wins over teams that aren’t TUCs (like Northeastern).

If the Terriers were to take three of four points from Northeastern and then sweep Maine in the quarterfinals, which certainly won’t be an easy task, I’d have to think they would be in pretty good shape to get an at-large berth for NCAAs. Another win at the Garden in the semifinals — again, not an easy task — would all but guarantee them a spot in the big dance.

Basically, the Terriers need to at least get to the semifinals at the Garden to have a chance at making NCAAs. Losing in the quarterfinals, no matter what they do this weekend or who they’re playing in the first round, would be a death knell. This is the part where I mention that BU has reached the semifinals in each of the last nine seasons.

Dropping three or four points to Northeastern this weekend would likely put BU in a position where it needs to win the conference tourney to make NCAAs.