Thoughts on the surprising Hockey East first round

These are the three things I think I learned this week.

1. Five overtimes? Really? Five?

I was on the West Coast this past week and when I got the chance, I checked in on the Hockey East scoreboard. I watched with mounting astonishment as the Notre Dame – Massachusetts contest kept going on and on.

And on and on and on.

The matchup expected to be the most lopsided — the fifth-seeded Irish, who were coming in quite hot, against the last-place Minutemen — went five overtimes. And more than halfway through that fifth OT before UMass pulled off the upset.

The game finished at 1:24 in the morning, took five hours and 49 minutes, and goaltender Cal Petersen garnered number one star for his 87 saves in a losing effort.

In the lingo of Facebook and Twitter: SMH!

(Translation for those not into social media: Shaking My Head.)

2. The season ends for Northeastern, UMass, Maine, and Connecticut.

As serious underdogs this past weekend, UMass, Maine, and UConn were expected to end their seasons. The stunner here is Northeastern.  The Huskies had overcome a brutal start to the season and become a top team playing as well as anyone.

Merrimack, by contrast, struggled mightily down the stretch.

When I saw that the Warriors won the opener, I thought the one weekend pick in which Jim and I differed — the second game of this series, in which he picked Merrimack — became a near lock. There was no way Northeastern was losing in two straight to a team that had entered the series with one win in its last 13 and none in its last nine.


It took most of a second overtime, but the Huskies fell.


3. So much for the chasm between the top seven teams in the league and the rest.

The regular season standings pointed to a significant gap after Vermont in seventh place. New Hampshire closed that with a strong stretch drive into eighth, but this first round appeared to be comprised of all mismatches. You could seemingly bet the ranch that there’d be at most one third game and there absolutely, positively wouldn’t be an underdog advancing.

Goodbye ranch.

As noted above, 11th-seeded Merrimack swept six-seed Northeastern. Number 12 seed UMass took five-seed Notre Dame to a third game, thanks to the epic opener discussed at the top of this piece. And Maine took Vermont to 16:05 of overtime of its third game.

Only UNH had the expected smooth sailing over UConn.

Again and for the hat trick, SMH.

Hockey East picks – Mar. 6-8

I picked up two games on Dave last weekend, but still have a massive hill to climb, particularly as I don’t expect Dave to pick too differently from me in this first round of the playoffs. Because these series are best two-of-three, we will pick all three games, even if we believe there will be a two-game sweep. So if you see us pick a team to win three games, understand why.

Jim last week: 8-2-1
Jim to date: 151-81-25
Dave last week: 6-4-1
Dave to date: 155-77-25

Hockey East first round (Friday-Sunday)

No. 12 Massachusetts at No. 5 Notre Dame
Jim’s pick: If UMass were at home, I’d have more faith. On the road, I think this should be Notre Dame’s series.
ND 4, UMass 2; ND 3, UMass 2; ND 3, UMass 1
Dave’s pick: Notre Dame’s performances down the stretch — better than .500 in six games against Providence, BU, and BC — have me convinced. The Irish should sweep or, at worst, emerge in three games.
ND 4, UMass 1; ND 3, UMass 2; ND 4, UMass 1

No. 11 Merrimack at No. 6 Northeastern
Jim’s pick: If there is one series I see a potential upset, it is this one. Not because I don’t believe in Northeastern, but because I do believe goaltending can steal playoff games and Merrimack has a stud in Rasmus Tirronen. Still, I’m picking NU in 3.
NU 3, MC 1; MC 2, NU 1; NU 2, MC 1

Dave’s pick: I can’t agree with Jim on this one. Merrimack has won only a single game since Jan. 17 and the was one in which Lowell thoroughly outplayed the Warriors. I’d be surprised to see this one go to three.
NU 4, MC 1; NU 2 MC 1; NU 4, MC 1

No. 10 Maine at No. 7 Vermont
Jim’s pick: I think Maine has the potential to be a dangerous out, and it is hard to beat a team SIX times (Vermont was 4-0 vs. Maine this season) in a single season. That said, I’m not picking against Vermont.
UVM 5, Maine 3; UVM 4, Maine 1; UVM 3, Maine 2
Dave’s pick: I think this is the series most likely to go to three games or have an underdog emerge with the upset. Vermont has been too lukewarm for me to think this matchup will be a cakewalk.  I still think, though, that the Catamounts will emerge.
UVM 4, Maine 3 (OT); UVM 3, Maine 2; UVM 2, Maine 0

No. 9 Connecticut at No. 8 New Hampshire
Jim’s pick: Despite the fact that these two teams are closest in the standings in terms of a first-round matchup, I think this could be the most lopsided as each team ended the regular season headed in different directions. That said, Rob Nichols could be a dangerous factor in this series that you should watch for.
UNH 3, UConn 1; UNH 4, UConn 2; UNH 3, UConn 2
Dave’s pick: I agree that despite the usually tight eight- vs. nine-seed matchup, this series isn’t likely to play out that way. UNH is running on all cylinders; UConn, running on empty.
UNH 3, UConn 1; UNH 4, UConn 1; UNH 4, UConn 1

Finally crowning the champ, cream rising to the top and PairWise concern

Boston University clinched a share of the regular-season title more than a week ago but the league was waiting until the Terriers clinch outright to present the trophy. The fact that took a while leads the three things I learned this week:

1. The Terriers are champs … finally

BU has known for a while they could call themselves regular season champions in Hockey East, but it wasn’t until the final night of the regular season that the Terriers knew they would have hold that championship all to themselves and earn then top seed in the playoffs. It was a bit of a difficult ending for BU – a loss and tie to Notre Dame and a loss on Friday to Northeastern (sandwiched around, of course, a Beanpot title). But BU dominated the Huskies on Saturday night to not only clinch to solo championship but head into a bye week with some confidence.

2. The creme has risen to the top

When you look at the final Hockey East standings, it is certainly the hottest teams come season’s end that rose to the top. The four teams that earned first-round byes – BU, Providence, Boston College and UMass Lowell – all played solid hockey over the final couple of weeks of the regular season (BU might be the one exception, but a Beanpot win believe it or not helps make a tough ending look better). The four teams that will host first-round series also seem to be clicking. It’s hard to tell which of the teams playing next weekend are most dangerous, but a quick look at the matchups shows that all four of the teams hosting – Notre Dame, Northeastern, Vermont and New Hampshire – played pretty good hockey down the stretch (Vermont might be considered the exception, but the Cats did earn a road win at Boston College and a road tie at UMass Lowell within the final three weekends).

3. It could be a thin year for Hockey East in the NCAA tournament

Ugly. That’s the only way to describe the PairWise outlook for Hockey East right now. While Boston University, Providence and Boston College all seem to have pretty solid NCAA footing, there isn’t currently a ton of home for more than three teams to make the NCAA tournament. UMass Lowell sits right below the bubble in the PairWise, while Vermont (19th) and Northeastern (t-20th) are the only other teams that can seemingly reach the NCAA field without winning the Hockey East tournament. All three of those teams will likely have to reach the Hockey East semifinals to even have a chance.

Hockey East picks – Feb. 27-28

I’d have bet the ranch that I was picking up a game on Jim when he took Massachusetts over Providence.

And I’d have lost the ranch.

But I got that one back with Boston University’s overtime win in the Beanpot, so I remain six games up.

Dave last week: 7-3-3
Jim last week: 7-3-3
Dave’s record-to-date: 149-73-24
Jim’s record-to-date: 143-79-24

Here are this week’s picks:

Friday, Feb. 27

Maine at Providence
Dave’s pick:  The Friars should sweep with this series being entirely in their own barn, but their inability to take four points in hardly any weekend does concern me.
PC 4, Maine 3
Jim’s pick: I have concerns too, but I’m not betting against Providence at this point.
PC 4, Maine 2

Massachusetts at Connecticut
Dave’s pick: You’d think that home ice would dictate a UConn win, but the Huskies have struggled mightily the last few weeks while UMass has played well.
UMass 2, UConn 1
Jim’s pick: I fell like UConn has to right the ship at some point and the last home game of the season – a place that has been kind – is the only place to start.
UConn 2, UMass 1

Vermont at Massachusetts-Lowell
Dave’s pick: I’m feeling better about Lowell’s chances after the big win over UMass and, even more significantly, the tie at BC.
UML 3, UVM 2 (OT)
Jim’s pick: This will be one of the ultimate grinder series with both teams fighting to earn a bye and home ice in the quarterfinals.
UML 3, UVM 2.

Northeastern at Boston University
Dave’s pick: I can’t believe that the Terriers will fritter away another opportunity to clinch sole ownership of the regular season title.
BU 4, NU 3
Jim’s pick: These teams played an emotion-filled game on Monday. But part of me believes that loss might start a tailspin for these Huskies.
BU 4, NU 2

Merrimack at New Hampshire 
Dave’s pick: As noted in this week’s column, I see UNH sweeping this weekend to gain the last home ice berth.
UNH 4, MC 2
Jim’s pick: I like UNH at home. But as you will see later, no sweep pick for me.
UNH 2, MC 1

Boston College at Notre Dame
Dave’s pick: Notre Dame’s impressive performance last weekend at BU has me concerned, but I’m going with the Eagles.
BC 3, UND 2 (OT)
Jim’s pick: At least on night one, I think the Eagles will prevail.
BC 3, UND 1

Saturday, Feb. 28

Merrimack at New Hampshire 
Dave’s pick: The Warriors, whose overall record got them nationally ranked, slide into the cellar.
UNH 3, MC 1
Jim’s pick: I feel like senior night will provide the spark to get this team going.
MC 2, UNH 1 

Boston University at Northeastern
Dave’s pick: The Huskies salvage a split in the series, though after their loss on Monday in overtime it’ll hardly feel that way. It could even be a blowout, if BU ignores the Pairwise implications and just sits on their first-place laurels.
NU 4, BU 1
Jim’s pick: I think that BU takes this sweep and glides into the playoffs red hot.
BU 3, NU 2

Maine at Providence
Dave’s pick: Although I suspect one of the two games in this series ends in a tie, I’m certainly not going to start picking ties now.
PC 3, Maine 2
Jim’s pick: As much as I want to agree with Dave that this series will probably yield points to Maine, I think I am compelled to pick Providence at home.
PC 3, Maine 2

Vermont at Massachusetts-Lowell
Dave’s pick: A split in this series feels like by far the most logical outcome, but I’m not going to open myself up to Jim gaining two games on me if I pick the split the wrong way. Besides, I think the River Hawks’ shaky confidence got a huge boost in the last two games.
UML 2, UVM 1
Jim’s pick: As much as Dave talks about confidence, I think more about Lowell being a team that is generally built for the postseason and that postseason begins this weekend locking up a bye.
UML 4, UVM 2

Boston College at Notre Dame 
Dave’s pick: Here’s another probable split in which I’m going to use Tigran Petrosian chess tactics to stymie Jim. I also think the Eagles are the better team even if they’ve had a tough time with Notre Dame and it’s in South Bend.
BC 4, UND 3 (OT)
Jim’s pick: I will go against Dave here. Notre Dame is playing too well to tank the final weekend, even to BC. They salvage the split.
UND 3, BC 2

Hockey East: Who can finish first, who can get a bye, and how easy it will be to predict

These are the three things I think I learned this week.

1. Boston University can do no worse than finish as co-champions with Boston College.

But the Terriers could lose in a tiebreaker (listed below) to see which team gains the number one playoff seed. BU could be number two.

It would, of course, amount to a gut-wrenching collapse for the Terriers. They’re still four points ahead of the Eagles with two games to go, and that’s after hosting a Notre Dame club that has been up and down all year and coming away with only a single point.

BU will need to get swept by Northeastern while BC sweeps suddenly-hot Notre Dame in South Bend. That’s hardly a likely combination, but it could happen.

If so, that will leave the two archrivals tied with 29 points. They’ll also be 1-1 in head-to-head action and have identical 13-6-3 league records. That means BU and BC would then start comparing records against the third place team.

Which is topic number two below. In short, though, BU would take the tiebreaker if that third-place team is Massachusetts-Lowell or Vermont. BC would take it if it’s Northeastern (which will have had to sweep BU to force this tiebreaker scenario). Providence and Notre Dame are not factors here because BU and BC both split with the Friars, and the Irish will have been swept by BC, and thus will not finish high enough to factor in this decision.

Which also means it won’t come down to a coin flip.

Got all that? Test on Friday night at 7 p.m. for 50 percent of your grade.

2. After BU and BC, it’s a free-for-all in the battle for a first-round bye.

And BC could be in the mix, too. While the Eagles are the only team remaining with a shot at BU and first place, their two games in South Bend could send them plummeting as low as sixth.

Providence, Lowell, Notre Dame, and Northeastern can all overtake BC for second place, yet all four could fall as far as seventh (or eighth in the case of Northeastern).

Vermont can’t finish higher than third, but finishes out the six teams who all have a shot at a top-four finish and a resulting first-round bye.

3. Based on Saturday night, anything can happen.

Only New Hampshire avoided an upset among the favorites. The Wildcats completed a sweep over faltering Connecticut.

Beyond that, though, the best a favorite could manage was Vermont’s scoreless tie at home with Merrimack.

The rest: Notre Dame, Maine, and Massachusetts all upset, respectively, BU, Northeastern, and Providence.

So buckle your seat belts this weekend. It could be a wild one.


At the conclusion of the regular season, teams will be ranked by the number of points accumulated. If two teams are tied for first place, they will be declared co-champions.

For playoff seeding purposes, the following tiebreakers will be used at the conclusion of the regular season

1. Head-to-head results between the tied teams

2. Number of wins in conference play

3. Best record against the first-place team(s), then the second-place team(s), then the third-place team(s), and so on

4. Coin flip

If more than two teams finish in a tie, the same criteria will be applied to reduce the number of teams tied, and then the process will commence again.

Hockey East picks – Feb. 20-23

Another atrocious week picking for me means I have pretty much handed Dave the title.

Jim last week: 5-6-1
Jim to date: 136-76-21
Dave last week: 7-4-1
Dave to date: 142-70-21

Friday, February 20

UMass Lowell at Boston College
Jim’s pick: This one will seem like I am going out on a limb right here, but the impressive offensive performance by Lowell last Saturday combined with BC’s defensive struggles last weekend make me believe in the River Hawks.
UML 5, BC 4
Dave’s pick: I’m still not convinced that the River Hawks are out of their funk. When going 1-1-1 against last-place UMass constitutes good news, that makes me stick with Old Reliable. (That’s a reference to BC having lost only three times since the end of November, not a quip about Jerry York’s age.)
BC 5, UML 3

Notre Dame at Boston University
Jim’s pick: Yes, both teams are coming off a loss, but I simply think BU is the better team.
BU 4, ND 2
Dave’s pick: Looking at the two teams’ records before that last loss shows why I’m going BU all the way.
BU 4, ND 2

Northeastern at Maine
Jim’s pick: With the Huskies offense clicking the way it is, can you really pick against them?
NU 5, Maine 2
Dave’s pick: Maine has been hot and cold; Northeastern, red-hot.
NU 4, Maine 2

Massachusetts at Providence
Jim’s pick: One thing we’ve learned about UMass is that it is a good team on home ice. This game is on the road, which makes the pick a bit easier.
PC 4, UMass 2
Dave’s pick: I’ll agree with Jim on the pick, but I’m not sure how 5-10-1 constitutes being a good team at home. PC picks up the first two points of a must-sweep weekend.
PC 5, UMass 1

New Hampshire at Connecticut
Jim’s pick: Even on home ice, I don’t feel sure picking UConn until it shores up its defense. Allowing 25 goals in four games (and one was a shutout) while scoring just three has me worried about this Huskies team.
UNH 3, UConn 1
Dave’s pick: UNH has been splitting weekends with some very good clubs; UConn has mostly been getting clobbered. I’m not sure if the Huskies can get back on track before the playoffs.
UNH 4, UConn 1

Merrimack at Vermont
Jim’s pick: The Catamounts may have only earned a split last weekend but I think they are playing better hockey.
UVM 3, MC 2
Dave’s pick: With five straight losses and only one win in its last nine, Merrimack has hit the skids in a serious way. Vermont hasn’t matched its first-half success, but still looks like a clear favorite.
UVM 3, MC 1

Saturday, February 21

Notre Dame at Boston University
Jim’s pick: The Terriers finish off the sweep and clinch the top overall seed in the playoffs.
BU 4, ND 2
Dave’s pick: The Terriers have been a model of consistency. They haven’t lost two straight all year.
BU 5, ND 2

Northeastern at Maine
Jim’s pick: It will be a close one but I still expect NU to come out on top.
NU 3, Maine 2 (OT)
Dave’s pick: I think the sweep will come easier than that. The Huskies have been playing as well as anyone.
NU 4, Maine 2

Providence at Massachusetts
Jim’s pick: This one in Amherst, I think I’m actually going to go against common wisdom and pick the Minutemen.
UM 3, PC 2
Dave’s pick: I don’t care what the venue is, Providence is simply a much, much better team. If the Friars can’t sweep the league’s last-place team, how far are they going to go?
PC 4, UMass 2

Connecticut at New Hampshire
Jim’s pick: UNH finishes a much-needed sweep to keep hopes alive for first-round home ice.
UNH 4, UConn 2
Dave’s pick: Agreed. In three of the Huskies’ last four games, they’ve been outscored 25-2.
UNH 5, UConn 1

Merrimack at Vermont
Jim’s pick: Another pick for a weekend sweep. And Vermont’s hopes for a first-round bye get a lot better.
UVM 2, MC 1
Dave’s pick: Agreed, once again, for all the reasons I mentioned above, plus this coming in Vermont’s barn.
UVM 3, MC 1

Monday, February 23

63rd Beanpot (Boston, Mass.)

Harvard vs. Boston College
Jim’s pick: Even a few weeks delayed, this is a huge game for the PairWise for both teams.
BC 4, HU 3
Dave’s pick: Two weeks ago, I was picking Harvard, but the Crimson have fallen on harder times. Yes, they took three of four points last weekend, but before that they lost four straight and six of seven.
BC 4, HU 2

Boston University vs. Northeastern
Jim’s pick: I picked the Huskies two weeks ago when the game was snowed out. Nothing that has happened since has changed my mind.
NU 3, BU 2
Dave’s pick: I’m sticking with BU, but readily acknowledge that this one could go multiple overtimes.
BU 3, NU 2 (2OT)

Here’s how the final two weeks can impact Hockey East playoff positioning

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.

A title on the verge being clinched, more goals than snow and an accordion in the standings

Boston University earned two points against New Hampshire over the weekend, leaving the Terriers on the verge of clinching the regular-season title in Hockey East. That leads the three things I learned this weekend in Hockey East:

1) Terriers ready to clinch

Boston University is very close to clinching at least a share of the regular season title. With a six-point lead in the standings over Boston College and a game in hand on the Eagles, BU needs just one win (or a BC loss) over the final two weekends of the regular season to clinch the season-long title. The Terriers nearly earned those points on Saturday night, rallying from 4-0 down at New Hampshire to get within a goal. The Wildcats, though, hung on to force the title race to, at the very minimum the penultimate weekend of Hockey East play.

2) Hockey East teams scored goals like Mother Nature produced snow

Snow has been an almost everyday occurrence in Hockey East country of late. But over the past week, goals have fallen as quickly as the white stuff we now all detest. Many offenses exploded this weekend, though none more than Northeastern which posted 9-0 and 6-1 wins over Connecticut on the weekend. UMass Lowell broke out of its offensive drought with a seven spot against Massachusetts. Boston College and Vermont played a wild one on Saturday with a 6-5 final. And Maine poured in nine goals against the stingy Merrimack defense to earn a two-game sweep, the first such sweep on the road for the Black Bears since a two-game sweep at Boston College in the 2013-13 season.

3) Even if BU clinches, there are plenty of races left in Hockey East

Boston University might end the race or the league title as early as Friday. But everything else in the league seems up for grabs with two weekends remaining. Splits between Providence and Notre Dame as well as Boston College and Vermont has placed just eight points between second and ninth place in Hockey East. Second-place BC and third-place Lowell seem to be in the driver’s seat for a top four spot with 24 and 22 points, respectively. But the two play one another next weekend, the only game both teams play next weekend. That leaves every other team with a game in hand, so fourth-place Providence (21 points), fifth-place Northeastern and Notre Dame (each with 20 points) and even seventh-place Vermont are very much alive for a top-four spot and a first-round bye. There is no doubt this race will come down to the final buzzer on the final night of league play.

Hockey East picks – Feb. 13-14

Jim and I disagreed on three picks last week, but two of them were in the postponed Beanpot, so it all came down to just one. Guess who won? Heh, heh, heh.

Dave last week: 7-2-1
Jim last week: 6-3-1
Dave’s record-to-date: 135-66-20
Jim’s record-to-date: 131-70-20

Here are this week’s picks:

Friday, Feb. 13

New Hampshire at Boston University 
Dave’s pick: Will Friday the 13th be my downfall? I don’t expect that this safe pick will be the start of it.
BU 4, UNH 2
Jim’s pick: Especially at home, I think BU has a significant edge.
BU 4, UNH 1

Maine at Merrimack
Dave’s pick: The Black Bears have won three times on the road this year, a significant improvement over last, but Merrimack is 9-2-2 at the Lawler Rink.
MC 3, Maine 1
Jim’s pick: I think Maine will be a tough opponent for Merrimack this weekend, but as Dave mentions, the Warriors at home are dominant..
MC 3, Maine 2

Connecticut at Northeastern
Dave’s pick: UConn has been tough against the best of teams (last week’s blowout loss to Providence notwithstanding), but the Huskies, the Northeastern Huskies, that is, have lost only once since Dec. 3.
NU 3, UConn 1
Jim’s pick: I love UConn at home but this team hasn’t been anywhere near as strong on the road.
NU 4, UConn 2

Vermont at Boston College
Dave’s pick: The Catamounts have come back down to Earth in the second half, while BC has quietly gone 11-2-1 since early December.
BC 4, UVM 2
Jim’s pick: This BC team is red hot, bad timing for a Vermont team that struggles in Chestnut Hill.
BC 5, UVM 2

Providence at Notre Dame 
Dave’s pick: This is a huge weekend for both teams with a first-round bye likely in the balance. You’d think home ice could decide this one, but the Irish haven’t defended it very well while the Friars have done quite nicely (7-5-2) on the road.
PC 4, UND 3
Jim’s pick: At least on night one, I think Providence will be the stronger team.
PC 5, UND 3

Massachusetts-Lowell at Massachusetts (non-conference) 
Dave’s pick: I’ve been a believer in Lowell and a doubter of UMass, but recent results have put those stances to the test. I’m sticking with the River Hawks one more weekend. They played too well in the first half to continue this way.
UML 3, UMass 2
Jim’s pick: This one is the toughest of Friday’s games to pick. After the way UMass dominated last Saturday, I feel like it should be an easier pick given the game is again in the Mullins Center. But Lowell has typically been a strong team responding to losses. <tosses coin>
UMass 3, UML 2

Saturday, Feb. 14

Northeastern at Connecticut 
Dave’s pick: Northeastern sweeps the Battle of the Huskies.
NU 2, UConn 1
Jim’s pick: As I mentioned above, I just love UConn’s confidence at home. Especially if they lose on Friday.
UConn 3, NU 1

Vermont at Boston College
Dave’s pick: I’m picking another sweep here, especially with the game being held at Kelley Rink.
BC 4, UVM 2
Jim’s pick: I agree here. Tough second half for Vermont gets tougher.
BC 3, UVM 1

Maine at Merrimack
Dave’s pick: These two teams may have started the weekend tied in the standings, but the Warriors have played much better overall and it’s in their barn.
MC 3, Maine 2
Jim’s pick: Lawler Arena continues to be kind to Merrimack.
MC 3, Maine 2

Massachusetts at Massachusetts-Lowell
Dave’s pick: If the River Hawks are going to hold onto a first-round bye, they need the two league points (available Saturday) and for their confidence really need a sweep.
UML 4, UMass 2
Jim’s pick: Home cooking for the River Hawks should be enough.
UML 5, UMass 3

Boston University at New Hampshire 
Dave’s pick: The Wildcats have split every weekend except one since the holiday break, but BU has been too strong. The Terriers sweep.
BU 4, UNH 2
Jim’s pick: Even with this game in Durham, I can’t pick against this red-hot BU team.
BU 5, UNH 3

Providence at Notre Dame 
Dave’s pick:  A sweep will be huge for either team’s hope of a first-round bye; getting swept, devastating. I’m picking a Friar sweep even though the odds probably dictate a split.
PC 3, UND 2 (OT)
Jim’s pick: This one feels like a barn burner. And given Notre Dame’s success on the second night, I think they will eek one out here.
UND 3, PC 2

Providence ascending, Beanpot thoughts, and Lowell plummeting

These are the three things I think I learned this week.

1. The Providence offense is coming on at just the right time.

For much of the season, the Providence scoring has been good, but not great. The Friars have displayed championship quality defense, but nothing amazing in the offensive zone.

That seems to be changing. A few weeks ago, the Friars lit up Massachusetts-Lowell, then one of the league’s top defensive clubs, 7-3. Then on Saturday, Providence took “lighting up” to a new level, shellacking Connecticut, 10-1. UConn had also been a strong defensive team.

Hey, it’s not as though the Friars are suddenly the second coming of the Gretzky Edmonton Oilers, but they’re putting it together at just the right time.

2. So much for that Beanpot distraction.

The theory has always been that the Friday night game between Beanpot Mondays is a tough one to get teams motivated for. You know, all that distraction of the big game ahead.

Well, all three Hockey East Beanpot teams won on Friday night. Boston University looked impressive, jumping out early on Lowell and winning, 5-2. BU’s championship game foe, Northeastern, took care of Massachusetts, 5-3, and consolation game-bound Boston College, defeated Merrimack, 4-2.

(Harvard did get shut out by Yale, 3-0, on Friday, then lost to Brown, 2-1. But we don’t really care about the Crimson, do we?)

Of course, perhaps the Hockey East trio of teams had ESP and knew the Beanpot was going to get postponed for two weeks, thereby avoiding the jinx through superpowers. Yup, makes sense to me.

3. Lowell is in trouble.

No team in college hockey went as long as the River Hawks did without a conference loss (until Jan. 10). But since then, it’s been uuuugly.

Wow. From undefeated to 2-7, including losses in six of their last seven games.

In reality, the first-half River Hawks weren’t quite as good as we thought they were. Some of those impressive-looking wins were over teams that haven’t been as good as expected.

A week ago, though, it looked like they had righted the ship. They lost at Merrimack, but dominated, outshooting the Warriors, 52-17, then won in the back end of the home-and-home.

But the River Hawks got off to an atrocious start against BU on Friday, falling behind 3-0 barely eight minutes into the game. Still, BU’s been such a strong team this year, that performance could perhaps be dismissed.

On Saturday, though, they faced UMass, which was 3-13-1 in Hockey East play, the first of three games against the Minutemen. Not to be unkind, but playing a 3-13-1 team ought to be the exilir a team needs.

Instead, Lowell fell behind early again and lost 5-2. And none of those five goals against were empty-netters.

Seems like it’s time to sound the Mayday! alarm.


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