Massachusetts-Lowell and Merrimack are far from locked into their place in the Hockey East standings with two weeks left (photo: Jim Rosvold).
The Hockey East regular season has been nothing short of remarkable. The only constant has been Boston University. Everything else? Mud.
Massachusetts-Lowell was looking like the team to beat through mid-January. Now, it’s only 3-7-1 in its last 11 games.
Northeastern was dead in the water after an 0-8-1 start. Now, Kevin Roy is pushing 40 points and the Huskies are knocking on the door of the top four.
Notre Dame continues to churn out wins despite fits and starts, Connecticut might host a first-round playoff series — the list goes on and on.
So with that, we present Hockey East Playoff-ology to help you sort through each team’s chances to finish in each playoff spot, from best case to worst-case scenario. Let’s get started, in order of the standings with two weeks remaining:
1. Boston University (28 points)
Highest probable finish: First — Even if a wacky circumstance emerges where the Terriers get only two points from their final four games, Boston College would have to win out and hope that Northeastern pulls ahead of Massachusetts-Lowell (BU owns a tiebreaker over BC by virtue of a better head-to-head record vs. UML).
Likely finish: First — Put simply: If the Terriers take three points from Notre Dame this weekend, there’s no mathematical way they can be caught. By anyone.
Lowest probable finish: Second — Or, BU could lose all four of its remaining games. In which case, I give up.
2. Boston College (24 points)
Highest probable finish: First — Is there a scenario where BU gets two points (or less) in the next two weeks? Sure. Is it likely to happen? No.
Likely finish: Second — Friday’s game against Lowell is intriguing. Let’s say BC defeats UML. A split vs Notre Dame next week would all but lock up second. Providence would have to win out and hope Northeastern passes Lowell (giving BC a tiebreaker based on head-to-head record vs. the Huskies). Let’s firmly place BC in second.
Lowest probable finish: Fifth — Back to Friday: Let’s say Lowell wins. That takes BC out of the driver’s seat entirely, since the Eagles would have a ceiling of 28 points. Lowell (hypothetically already on 24 points), would own the tiebreaker and could get to 28 by sweeping Vermont. Plus, Providence has eight points for the taking (on paper) vs. Connecticut and New Hampshire. BC could fall out of a first-round bye. There are scenarios that put the Eagles even lower, but for now let’s put BC’s floor at fifth.
3. Massachusetts-Lowell (22 points)
Highest probable finish: Second — Even if BU finishes 0-4, Lowell can only tie BU, and the Terriers own the tiebreaker.
Likely finish: Fourth — Friday’s game against BC is pivotal. But even with a Lowell win, Providence has a better chance to pick up additional points and the Friars have a game in hand. I think PC passes UML.
Lowest probable finish: Seventh — This is the nightmare scenario, and it’s not unrealistic. Let’s say UML loses its last three games. Mathematically, Vermont pulls ahead (23 points), Providence can get to 22 points with one win (and holds a head-to-head tiebreaker over UML), plus Northeastern and Notre Dame would need only three points each to get to 23. A lot would have to go wrong at once, but it’s not terribly far-fetched.
4. Providence (21 points)
Highest probable finish: Second — If the Friars get all eight points from their remaining four games, someone between BC and UML has to lose (or they could tie, which is just as helpful). There’s a reasonable chance, with the right breaks, PC could finish second.
Likely finish: Third — The scenario above depends on whether BC has sorted out its woes after a split last week at home against Vermont. There’s a more likely path where Providence passes Lowell based on sheer points up for grabs, thus placing the Friars in third.
Lowest probable finish: Seventh — It would take an 0-4 finish from Providence and a sudden run from Maine and UConn for the Friars to get kicked out of the top eight. Massachusetts would have to sweep PC, Maine would have to take at least two points from Northeastern then sweep PC, and UConn would have to win out. More realistically, the floor is seventh for the Friars. Sure, Maine could go on a run. Maine, Vermont and UConn at the same time? Less likely.
T-5. Northeastern (20 points)
Highest probable finish: Third — If BC has no trouble the next two weeks, this isn’t too far-fetched a finish. The Huskies would just need to take care of business against Maine, grab (ideally) a split against BU and hope for a couple of losses from Providence. A lot to do (and hope for), but not unrealistic.
Likely finish: Fifth — I’d even say fourth is a possibility for Northeastern. But that depends on whether Lowell has stemmed the bleeding. If UML gets only one win in its final three games, the door is ajar for the Huskies to pass the River Hawks and grab a first-round bye. More than likely, however, the Huskies land just outside the top four. Which, given their standing in the PairWise Rankings, might not be a bad thing (more playoff games equals more possible wins).
Lowest probable finish: Eighth — While it’s possible for the Huskies (if they lose out) to fall all the way to ninth, that would require UConn to take five points from its last three games. Not likely. However, let’s say Northeastern splits with Maine in Orono then gets swept by BU (giving Maine a tiebreaker). NU could very easily plummet to eighth given other results.
T-5. Notre Dame (20 points)
Highest probable finish: Second — The Irish face BC at home. This could be a big swing, especially if the Irish manage a split with BU. Armed with (theoretically) six points and a tiebreaker vs. BC, you could potentially slot the Irish in second. Of the teams in the middle group, Notre Dame controls its destiny the most.
Likely finish: Sixth — Notre Dame’s two games at BU loom large. Take points and you’re in really good shape for a bye. Get swept? Still not terrible — you get to host BC. But here’s the catch: Notre Dame still will need to sweep BC AND hope Northeastern gets fewer than four points. The Huskies currently own this head-to-head tiebreaker.
Lowest probable finish: Eighth — As I mentioned in the blurb on Northeastern, I don’t see UConn getting five points in the final six games. Could Vermont and Maine move ahead should the Irish come up empty? Sure. But seventh is the farthest the Irish can reasonably drop.
7. Vermont (19 points)
Highest probable finish: Fourth — There are four juicy points up for grabs at home vs. Merrimack this weekend. Plus, next week vs. Lowell could mean a big swing for the Catamounts. If Lowell loses to BC and Vermont wins out, it would pin Lowell down to 24 points. However, it’ll be hard to pass both Lowell and Providence to get to third, so fourth is more reasonable.
Likely finish: Seventh — Even assuming Vermont sweeps Merrimack, Notre Dame still has four points up for grabs at home vs. BC the final weekend, and the Irish hold a head-to-head tiebreaker over Vermont. Plus, if Northeastern grabs just one point from BU the final weekend, the Huskies would own another tiebreaker over Vermont. A lot has to happen for Vermont to climb farther than seventh.
Lowest probable finish: Eighth — That said, I don’t see Vermont falling into the clutches of both Maine and UConn, especially considering UConn has only three games remaining to Vermont’s four. Even with an 0-4 finish, UConn would need four points in three games to pass Vermont, considering the Catamounts own the head-to-head tiebreaker.
T-8. Maine (16 points)
Highest probable finish: Fifth — Maine has two against Northeastern at home this weekend. Say the Huskies are caught looking ahead to the Beanpot and Maine gets a sweep. The Huskies might be out of the picture for a bye (no tiebreaker and a series vs. BU next week). The only problem: Some combination of Providence, Notre Dame, Lowell or Vermont probably will clog the final spots in the top four. Maine would need a tremendous amount to go right to get a bye. A high home-ice spot in the first round is more realistic.
Likely finish: Ninth — I’m going to go out on a limb: Let’s say Maine and Northeastern split this weekend. Then what? Maine visits Providence for two games. Given the way both Northeastern and Providence are playing, four points over the next four games seems like a tall order. Plus, Notre Dame, UConn and Vermont all hold tiebreakers over Maine. If UConn gets two or three points in its final three games, it forces Maine’s hand to (realistically) pick up points in both series. Unfortunately, I think the Black Bears will finish on the bad side of the UConn tiebreaker.
Lowest probable finish: 10th — New Hampshire is playing better, and Merrimack still could right the ship. The good thing for Maine is that UNH and Merrimack have to play each other next week. For both to pass Maine, the Black Bears would have to go 0-4, UNH and Merrimack would both have to sweep this weekend, then split with each other next week. That’s a lot to happen, so the floor for Maine is likely 10th.
T-8. Connecticut (16 points)
Highest probable finish: Seventh — By virtue of tying BU, UConn holds a tiebreaker over Vermont, so with three points in three games, the Huskies theoretically could get up to seventh. But five points would be the minimum to get any higher (Notre Dame and Northeastern both have tiebreakers over UConn). A lot would have to go right, and everyone UConn is chasing has a game in hand.
Likely finish: Eighth — I think the Huskies get the Ice Bus across the finish line for a home playoff series. Which, in and of itself, would be a great achievement. Still, they don’t control their own destiny. At bare minimum, the Huskies need a split against UNH this weekend. After that, keep in mind: UConn owns the head-to-head tiebreaker over Maine.
Lowest probable finish: 10th — Having one fewer game to play could be an issue, and UNH could take advantage, especially in their series this coming weekend.
10. New Hampshire (13 points)
Highest probable finish: Eighth — Take care of UConn and Merrimack on back-to-back weekends, then hope Maine doesn’t string together a few wins. It’s not that far-fetched.
Likely finish: 10th — UNH has played much better the last few weeks and it’s looking like a dangerous team to play in the first round. The Wildcats also control their own destiny to get a better first-round seed. Their next opponents are the teams above (UConn) and below (Merrimack) them in the standings.
Lowest probable finish: 11th — If things go poorly against UConn this weekend, the Merrimack series could knock UNH down to 11th easily. UMass would need at minimum five points to pass UNH — plus, the Wildcats have a game in hand, so 11th feels like a realistic floor.
11. Merrimack (12 points)
Highest probable finish: Ninth — Four points back of the final home-ice spot with three teams to pass makes eighth difficult. But we know the Warriors can beat anyone in the league if they put it together. Sweeping Vermont would be a necessary first step, but the Warriors lose tiebreakers against both Maine and UConn. Whatever slim chance remains for home ice will come down to next week’s series at UNH.
Likely finish: 11th — Much like UNH, the Warriors control their own destiny to move up or down a few notches. But the choice of first-round opponents doesn’t get much easier finishing 10th vs. 11th.
Lowest probable finish: 12th — The Warriors are on a five-game losing streak, and they’re 1-7-1 in their last nine. If the slide continues and UMass picks up just three points, the Minutemen hold a tiebreaker.
12. Massachusetts (9 points)
Highest probable finish: 10th — A good finish and a solid first-round draw could salvage the season, but sweeping Providence is almost a necessity. Mathematically, this is as high as UMass can go.
Likely finish: 12th — Sweeping Providence would be difficult, and everyone in front of UMass has a game in hand.
Lowest probable finish: 12th — The good news is that it can’t get worse.