Women’s college hockey’s only undecided conference postseason berths are in Hockey East, where the bottom four teams are separated by just two points in the league’s final weekend.
UConn, Maine and Boston College each have some control of their own destiny in fighting for the last two of four Hockey East playoff berths. Northeastern, which finished its Hockey East season at 4-10-1, can now only wait for the results between the UConn-Maine and BC-UNH series this weekend.
— Maine coach Rich Filighera, on the Black Bears’ playoff hopes
Northeastern needs UConn to take three or four points at Maine and New Hampshire to take two or more points against Boston College to make the postseason. Coach Joy Woog declined to comment on her team’s playoff outlook.
Maine coach Rich Filighera expected more from his team than to be still fighting for a playoff berth in the last weekend of the season.
“We should have been in a better position before this weekend,” he said. “But I’m happy with the way we’ve played down this stretch, and I’m hoping to get two more points so we’ll be in.”
Two points in two games against UConn will be enough for Maine to get in ahead of Northeastern, but the Black Bears would still need New Hampshire to take at least a point from Boston College to make the postseason in that case.
UConn will miss the Hockey East playoffs only if the Huskies take one point from Maine and BC sweeps New Hampshire, or if the Huskies get swept by Maine and BC earns three points.
The Eagles are guaranteed a berth if they sweep New Hampshire. If they take three points from the Wildcats, they still get a berth if Maine gets a point or less against UConn or Maine sweeps UConn.
That last scenario might seem the most improbable given that UNH has yet to lose to anyone other than Providence in Hockey East this year, but then again, the bottom half of this league has been anything but easy to predict.
With New Hampshire favored to eliminate Boston College, the league’s focus will be on Orono for the UConn-Maine games at 1 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday. The wait will be particularly agonizing for Northeastern.
UConn and Maine each beat both BC and Northeastern in the past two weeks to keep control of their own destinies. UConn won both of those games with Kaitlyn Shain earning shutouts in net in lieu of Shannon Murphy, who had been the regular starter for most of the season.
Filighera has been pleased his goaltending, but like UConn, Maine has struggled to score.
“Our goaltending has been great, our team defense has been solid, but we haven’t finished our chances and it’s killed us,” he said. “That’s prevented us from having the success we thought we would have.”
The Black Bears have lost eight games this season where they trailed by just one before pulling their goaltender in the final minutes.
Maine scored 117 goals en route to a 16-15-4 record last year but managed just 63 this season. The difference starts at the top. Karen Droog and Meagan Aarts scored 25 goals each a year ago-now they just have 25 combined.
“It’s not because they’re not working hard, and not because they’re not getting chances, it’s just for whatever reason, the puck’s not going in the net for them this year,” Filighera said.
Maine has lost one-goal games to both New Hampshire and Providence. To get another shot at those teams though, the Black Bears will have to get past UConn first.
“Everybody has to play their best for us to have success,” Filighera said. “We’ve played better hockey as the year’s going on, so hopefully we’ll be able to do that if we get into the playoffs.”
As promised, Providence clinched the first Hockey East regular season crown with a 7-4 victory over New Hampshire on Saturday. The Friars are now 11-1-3 in their last 15 and their seven-game win streak is the longest in the East.
Despite the victory over the Wildcats, Providence sits just eighth in the USCHO.com PairWise Rankings, and that does not bode well for the Friars’ NCAA chances, even if they should win out and take the inaugural Hockey East title.
While Providence has proven it can compete against the nation’s best this year — splitting with No. 4 Dartmouth, tying No. 5 St. Lawrence and taking No. 1 Harvard to the last minute of overtime — ties against UConn, Brown, Yale and two against Niagara greatly hurt its cause.
Though the Friars are playing their best hockey at this point of the season, the chances of them getting to demonstrate it on college hockey’s grandest stage are slim. With still only four teams making women’s hockey’s NCAA tournament and now 28 full-fledged D-I programs, it is once again impossible for the NCAA to avoid denying a championship bid to a team capable of winning it all.