The playoff picture has become a lot clearer now with two weeks left in the regular season. New Hampshire, Maine, Boston College and Providence have all wrapped up tournament home-ice berths. While it’ll go down to the final weekend between UNH and Maine for the top spot, BC and PC are all but mathematically locked into third and fourth place, respectively.
Unless Northeastern pulls a Lazarus starting this weekend against BU, the Huskies will be the odd man out in the playoffs, a stunning outcome for anyone who saw them play so well in the Beanpot.
Which means that we’ll probably be seeing a first round with Maine and UNH hosting UMass-Amherst and Merrimack along with BC-Lowell and Providence-BU. There are some interesting matchups there, but that’s for another week.
As for the awards…
KOHO Player of the Week: Carl Corazzini (F, Boston University) notched a hat trick to lead BU to a 4-1 win over Maine and a split at Alfond Arena.
KOHO Rookie of the Week: Darren Haydar (F, New Hampshire) continued his torrid scoring pace with another two goals and four assists on the weekend.
Heaton Defensive Player of the Week: Markus Helanen (G, UMass-Amherst) stole another game for the Minutemen, stopping 35 UMass-Lowell shots including 21 in the second period.
Hockey East Standings
Record in picks last week: 4-5
Season’s record in picks: 114-64, .640
No. 3 Maine (23-3-4, 15-3-2 HEA) vs.
UMass-Lowell (16-15-0, 8-13-0 HEA) and
Merrimack (10-19-1, 6-13-1 HEA)
Friday, 7 p.m., Paul E. Tsongas Arena, Lowell, MA
Sunday, 7 p.m., Alfond Arena, Orono, ME
Maine appeared poised to complete a four-game sweep of No. 4 New Hampshire, No. 6 Boston College and Boston University when it dominated the opener of its series with BU, 7-2, outshooting the Terriers 40-14. The resilient Terriers, however, came back to gain a split, 4-1, on the strength of Carl Corazzini’s hat trick and Michel Larocque’s goaltending.
"We’re disappointed because they were four major games, we put ourselves in position to sweep them all and we didn’t get it done on Saturday night," says coach Shawn Walsh. "But I want to give BU a lot of credit. They played exceptionally well and they got great goaltending and obviously Carl Corazzini was in the right place at the right time and finished.
"Usually, you’ll take a game where you have 77 attempts to 42, but the style of the game wasn’t what we prefer. We were very, very loose defensively and we got away from what’s carried us this year."
While compiling a nine-game winning streak, the Black Bears had been held to under five goals only twice and had still scored four times in both of those games. As a result, BU’s ability to hold them to only one was a surprise to both fans and themselves.
"We’ve been scoring at will," says Walsh. "I think that [our unsound play in the second half when BU broke open a 1-1 game] was a psychological reaction to not scoring much. We didn’t get a goal until halfway through and it was the only one we got. So again, you go back to giving BU credit."
Maine still holds its destiny in its own hands, but must take games this weekend against UMass-Lowell and Merrimack before traveling to UNH for the two games on March 5-6 that should decide the regular-season champion.
"Lowell is playing really well right now," says Walsh. "We saw them play BC and they played a great game. They deserved to win it. And from the reports we got on Saturday night, they played well [against UMass-Amherst] as well."
Fox Sports New England noted in its telecast last Friday that going into the BC game the River Hawks’ 10 wins in 1999 trailed only Maine and North Dakota nationally.
"They’re playing especially well at home even though their record doesn’t indicate it," says Walsh. (Lowell is 8-6 on the road and 7-9 at the Tsongas Arena.)
"Tim [Whitehead] has done a great job of recharging that team. They’re an impressive group right now and it’ll be a typical Hockey East battle."
In hosting Merrimack, Maine will then face a team whose record in 1999 is almost the flip side of Lowell’s. Merrimack has won only twice since New Year’s Day and has lost 10 of its last 11.
"They’ve struggled, but they’re dangerous," says Walsh. "Their personnel makes them a team you’ve got to be wary of because they can score. In college hockey, any team that has people that can score is going to have an opportunity. They took a good Providence team into overtime."
UMass-Lowell, as Walsh notes, has been a much-improved club in the second half, but lost two 3-2 games last weekend. First, the River Hawks gave No. 6 BC all it could handle and then they outshot UMass-Amherst, 37-17, only to be stymied by goaltender Markus Helanen.
"Going into the weekend, we knew we had our hands full in both games," says coach Tim Whitehead. "We do feel that we played extremely well [against BC], but we did not have a sharp first period [against UMass-Amherst]. We bounced back very strong in the second and third periods, but it wasn’t enough.
"There were a lot of positives we can take out of the weekend, but at the same time we’d love to come out on top of some of those games. I won’t kid anyone on that. But we did play some pretty good hockey for most of the weekend."
Unfortunately for the River Hawks, they’re catching both barrels of the Hockey East shotgun this weekend as they take on No. 3 Maine and No. 4 UNH.
"We have to be very defensively aware against both of those teams," says Whitehead. "We have to be very disciplined. And we have to have confidence in ourselves that we can beat those teams because anything can happen. But those are two of the strongest teams in the country. We know we have our hands full.
"One thing is for sure. Win, lose or draw, we’ll be coming out of the weekend a lot more battle-ready than [going in]. Hopefully, we can be up for that challenge."
Two weeks ago, Merrimack broke its losing streak by defeating Northeastern, 5-2, and appeared to have caught a major break in its only game last weekend against Providence. Trailing 4-2 with only a minute left, the Warriors pulled their goaltender and scored an extra-skater goal with just 44 seconds left, and then duplicated the feat with 21 seconds remaining to potentially steal a point in a lost game.
Unfortunately, however, they surrendered the game-winner just 30 seconds into overtime.
"We played pretty well in the Northeastern game, but were only so-so against Providence," says coach Chris Serino. "It was a great comeback for us, but the overtime was just disappointing. It was a three-on-three situation and all three of our guys lost guys.
"Coming back was good. It showed character. But losing 30 seconds into overtime, we didn’t carry it out. We had full momentum going, we had them on their heels, but we didn’t carry it out. That’s disappointing."
With three of their paper-thin defensive corps — Tim Foster, Brad Mills and Stephen Moon — only marginally healthy for the game, the Warriors dressed defenseman Tony White as a forward. The move proved to be the right one when Moon had to leave the game, and then Andrew Fox sustained a groin injury, but also forced them to skate only three full forward lines after White moved back.
"We can’t play with four or five defensemen," says Serino. "We just don’t skate well then. We get too tired."
Moon, who has struggled with a knee injury all season, is the least likely of the four banged-up blueliners to play this week and could sit at least until the playoffs.
This week, the Warriors face two of the teams least likely to let them get back on their feet again: Boston College and Maine. At least the BC game, however, is at home where they last played on Jan. 31.
"We haven’t played at home for so long that maybe against BC that will be a wakeup call and the kids will be excited to play at home," says Serino. "But it doesn’t get any tougher. We’ve just got to respond to it. With us, it’s not one game at a time, but one period at a time. It’s tough, but that’s our league."
Cris Classen supplanted a struggling Tom Welby in the nets last week and is likely to play again in one of the games this weekend.
"We’re probably going to split them till the playoffs and see who’s hot at the time," says Serino. "Classen played okay and we’ve had the opportunity to rest Tommy a couple games to get him mentally sharp again.
"He’s probably going to play Friday night against BC. If things go according to plan, Classen will play up at Maine."
PICKS: Maine takes care of business, edging Lowell, 4-3, on the road before putting away Merrimack at home, 5-2.
No. 4 New Hampshire (23-5-3, 15-3-3 HEA) hosts
UMass-Lowell (16-15-0, 8-13-0 HEA)
Sunday, 7 p.m., Whittemore Center, Durham, NH
Last week, New Hampshire swamped Northeastern, 7-2, before tying fellow league heavyweight Boston College, 2-2.
"Northeastern always plays us tough, but we got a quick jump on them," says coach Dick Umile, whose Wildcats owned a 4-0 lead by the 10:25 mark. "Then down at Conte Forum, it was a great college hockey game between two teams fighting for position in Hockey East."
As a result, UNH moved past Maine into first place after the Black Bears split with BU. Maine does, however, hold a game in hand advantage.
"Overall, I like the way this team is playing," he says. "The first 8-10 minutes of the second period against BC weren’t that good and we want to play 60 strong minutes. But in general we’re playing well and we’re playing playoff hockey."
Prior to next week’s epic two-game showdown with Maine, UNH must first take care of business with the ever-dangerous UMass-Lowell River Hawks.
"Timmy [Whitehead] does a terrific job," says Umile. "The kids play hard. If you don’t respect UMass-Lowell, you’ll come out on the losing end. Our games with them [in late January, 3-1 and 4-1 wins] were up for grabs until late in the third period. We’ll have to play 60 minutes against them."
UMass-Lowell is previewed above.
PICKS: UNH sets up next week’s dramatic series with Maine by winning, 4-2.
No. 6 Boston College (19-10-4, 13-6-2 HEA) at
Merrimack (10-19-1, 6-13-1 HEA)
Friday, 7 p.m., Volpe Center, North Andover, MA
Boston College opened a three-game week with a comeback 3-2 win over UMass-Lowell. Trailing 2-1 going into the third period, the Eagles used late goals by Mike Lephart and Nick Pierandri to pull out the victory.
They then had to settle for a 2-2 tie at home against UNH in their last real shot at finishing first or second. The comeback roles were reversed this time as Wildcat rookie Darren Haydar tied the game with just 2:36 remaining.
On the plus side, Eagle penalty killers held the two teams a collective 0-for-11 on the man advantage. That changed in a hurry in a Tuesday night clash with Providence, however. The Friar power play scored three times in the first period and went 4-for-8 on the evening.
As a result, BC had to once again rally, this time for a tie, with a Bobby Allen tally with 11 seconds remaining.
This week, the Eagles face only Merrimack, a team they defeated 2-1 back in early December.
Merrimack is previewed above.
PICKS: BC’s forwards take advantage of Merrimack’s defensive struggles, 5-3.
Providence College (17-13-1, 11-9-1 HEA) vs.
UMass-Amherst (10-18-2, 6-13-2 HEA)
Friday, 7 p.m., Schneider Arena, Providence, RI
Saturday, 7 p.m., Mullins Center, Amherst, MA
Although Providence did pull out its one game of the weekend in overtime with Merrimack, 4-3, and looked strong in tying No. 6 Boston College on Tuesday, 5-5, the way the Friars have played in the final minute of the game must be driving their fans to distraction.
They held a 4-2 lead over the Warriors until the 19:16 mark of the third when Merrimack scored the first of two extra-skater goals to force the overtime. And against BC, they held a 5-4 lead until Bobby Allen got the game-tying goal with just 11 seconds left.
Nonetheless, they went 2-for-2 on the power play against Merrimack and 4-for-8 against BC to take over the league lead in the category (23.87 percent).
UMass-Amherst continued its stretch-run surge with a crucial 6-3 win over Northeastern two weeks ago and victories over Army and Lowell, 2-0 and 3-2, respectively, last week. The Minutemen have now taken four of their last five games.
"If you look at our last six games," says coach Joe Mallen, "we have an overtime loss to BC and a one-goal loss to UMass-Lowell with the wins sandwiched around that. We’re finally getting some scoring from different people like Martin Miljko, Kris Wallis and Randy Drohan."
Miljko, a freshman forward, got his first collegiate goal two weeks ago against Northeastern and added a second against Army last week. Wallis (5-9–14), a sophomore who Mallen has been high on since he first arrived in Amherst, ended a goal-scoring drought against Northeastern that dated back to Nov. 29. And Drohan, a rookie defenseman, got his first in the 3-2 squeaker over Lowell.
"And Jeff Blanchard hadn’t been scoring consistently, but he scored a huge goal at the end of the UMass-Lowell game to win it," adds Mallen. "Those are the type of contributions that we’ve been getting.
"We’re starting to get some goals in clutch times, too. Northeastern got within one, 4-3, and Dean Stork answered the call right away to go 5-3. We needed a big goal at the end of the Army game — Army played extremely well; Corey Winer played as well as any goalie has against us this year — but with less than two minutes to go Martin Miljko scored a goal to make it 2-0 and didn’t give them the chance to pull their goalie."
The emergence of rookie goaltender Mike Johnson has also allowed Mallen to rest Markus Helanen, this week’s Hockey East Defensive Player of the Week, to keep him at the top of his game.
"We’re getting great goaltending," says Mallen. "Mike Johnson has played great for us, so we’ve been able to platoon our goalies. In three weekends in a row, we’ve been able to rest Markus on the first night and play him on the second. That’s paid off for us."
That said, with just three games left in the regular season Mallen could go with Helanen in both contests this weekend against Providence. The Friars are a vastly underrated offensive club that now ranks second in the league in overall offense (4.26 goals per game) as well as the aforementioned top power play (23.87 percent).
"Anyone will tell you that you need to try to shut down [Jerry] Keefe, [Mike] Omicioli and [Fernando] Pisani," says Mallen. "Last time, for the most part, they split those guys up into two lines, but it doesn’t make a difference whether they’re split into two lines or three lines. They’re still three very dangerous players.
"[The Friars] are a very good team. I have a lot of respect for them and the job that Paul Pooley is doing. We’re going to have to play real good hockey to beat them."
PICKS: Providence wins at home, 4-2, but Helanen steals another one back at the Mullins Center, 2-1.
FOX Sports New England
Boston University (12-16-3, 7-11-3 HEA) vs.
Northeastern (9-18-3, 4-14-2 HEA)
Friday, 7 p.m., Matthews Arena, Boston, MA
Saturday, 7 p.m., Walter Brown Arena, Boston, MA FSNE
Boston University made it 4-2-1 for February with a weekend split at Maine. The month has seen a disappointing loss to Providence, but has also featured another Beanpot championship (including a win over No. 6 BC), a tie with No. 4 UNH and a split with the No. 3 Black Bears. The split began ominously with a 7-2 thrashing, but the Terriers rebounded with a 4-1 victory.
"We still have a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde look to us," says coach Jack Parker. "But there’s more Dr. Jekyll involved, more positive things, of late. We played real well in the Beanpot week, including a win over Merrimack. We played real well in the UNH game, but then we turned around the next night and didn’t play so well against Providence.
"And our first night up at Maine, it looked like we didn’t know where we were. The next night we played like the Montreal Canadiens.
"So we’re looking to get more of the good stuff out of the team before the playoffs start. Then we’ll be more confident in the playoffs."
Parker sees one major difference between the team’s play when it is "on" and when it is "off."
"[It comes down to] focus of attention and getting ready to play," he says. "We were focused the second night against Maine because we didn’t play well on Friday night. We were definitely focused on the Beanpot because we always have been. We played a good game against UNH and didn’t play as focused and alert as we should have been against Providence.
"It’s a matter of mental preparation. We still have a real young team and they’re not used to playing big games back-to-back.
"We also just keep getting hit by the injury bug. An inconsistent lineup can lead to inconsistent play."
This week, the Terriers will face Northeastern in a two-game rematch of the Beanpot title game. (The Saturday home tilt will be in front of the Fox Sports New England cameras.) While the Huskies are in the Hockey East cellar and will have their work cut out for them if they are going to qualify for the playoffs, Parker sees that as a potential danger.
"The big key is that they are in trouble," he says. "They have to make some hay in this second-to-last weekend of the year or else they’ll be out of the playoffs. That certainly wasn’t their goal before the season started.
"Our goal is to make sure that we stay in fifth place because we have Lowell nipping at our heels. Positions for the playoffs are real important to both clubs.
"They have played us real hard and already beat us in our building once this year. We played well against them in the Beanpot, but they stormed us in the first half of the third period while [Michel] Larocque stood them off for a while. They certainly have a lot of confidence against us."
What has happened to Northeastern? The Huskies, who looked impressive while losing to BU in the Beanpot championship game, have followed that performance with a 5-2 loss to Merrimack, a 6-3 loss to UMass-Amherst and a 7-2 one to New Hampshire.
"Obviously, we’re in a bit of a funk," says coach Bruce Crowder. "We’re working hard, but I don’t think we’re working smart. That’s one of the things that has hurt us.
"Some of the games that we’ve been in have been pretty similar to the BU game in the Beanpot when we played well at times and outplayed teams at times, but really haven’t gotten anything for our efforts. We’re just battling through some things."
Not only are the Huskies in the cellar, but they’re three points out of the final Hockey East playoff berth with only four games remaining. And none of those are head-to-head matches with the teams they have the best shot of catching.
"We’ve dug ourselves a hole here," says Crowder. "We’ve only got four games left to get it done or those four games are all we’re going to have left. The only thing we have control over is the teams we’re going to play.
"We’ve got to win some hockey games. We’ve got a tough go this weekend with two with BU. Hopefully, we’ll be able to get some momentum out of it and play like we did a couple weeks ago."
The one glimmer of hope is that Northeastern has played BU well this season, defeating the Terriers in mid-January, 3-1, before losing the Beanpot heartbreaker.
"[The keys will be] our ability to come out and play with confidence and at the same time hopefully get to [Michel] Larocque," says Crowder. "He obviously did a tremendous job against us the last time we played. We’ve just got to get the red light on behind him."
PICKS: The Huskies really need more than a split, but that’s probably the best-case scenario. More likely, BU will sweep, 5-3 at home and 4-3 at Matthews Arena.