The weekend now in back of us led to some very interesting shuffling in the Hockey East standings. So let’s get started figuring out what happened when the dust settled.
We can start with a very interesting fact about Friday night. A rare occurrence as all 10 teams were in action and in each of the five games, the visiting team won. That’s not something you’re going to see every day.
One of Friday’s games was an absolute shocker as Vermont, which at one point a week earlier had scored just five goals in six games exploded for seven goals on the road against Maine in a 7-2 win. It was the first back-to-back wins for the Catamounts this season and, in each of the two wins, Vermont put up a seven spot. For Maine, on the other hand, things became more frustrating as goaltending woes continued. The Black Bears used all three of their goaltenders that dressed that night.
That game, combined with Providence’s loss to Boston College and an overtime loss for Massachusetts to Boston University, catapulted Vermont into a tie for seventh place with the Minutemen, three points clear of Providence for the final playoff spot. A Providence-UMass 3-3 tie on Saturday combined with Vermont’s 4-2 loss at Maine in the second game of that series places UMass in 7th, Vermont in 8th one point behind and Providence on the outside looking in at 9th with just three weekends remaining.
Merrimack may have made the ultimate believers out of Hockey East fans by sweeping New Hampshire, winning 4-2 at Durham on Friday before taking an overtime win, 3-2, at home on Saturday. The sweep really made the top of the Hockey East standings interesting. UNH wasted a golden opportunity to put a stranglehold on the top spot, entering the weekend two points ahead of BC, which played just one game. Had the Wildcats swept, they’d have grabbed a four-point lead for first. Instead, they are tied with BC, each team has six games left and, in the final weekend, BC and UNH will square off in a home-and-home series.
That series could spell opportunity for Merrimack. The Warriors are now three points behind BC and UNH and are easily the hottest team in hockey having won 12 of 13, 14 of 16 and 17 of its last 20. If the Warriors continue to win the games they should (i.e. two against UMass and two against Providence) and at least gain a road split in Orono, Merrimack could find its way to the top spot when the dust settles.
With Maine taking just two of four points from Vermont, they have now made home ice seem almost impossible. Maine is five points behind fourth-place BU with six games remaining.
Thus, you can begin mapping out at least where the quarterfinal games will be played. Though nothing is clinched, it seems that BC, UNH, BU and, for the first time in history, Merrimack will be hosting home ice series. All four of those will battle it out for the league title as well.
Maine and Northeastern are in the heated battle for the fifth and sixth spots. It’s quite possible one of those two teams will travel to Lawler Arena to face Merrimack in a building that might now be the toughest ice sheet to play on in Hockey East.
UMass, Vermont and Providence, then, will be in the race for the final two playoff spots as Massachusetts-Lowell’s overtime loss to Northeastern on Friday probably spells the end of the River Hawks playoff hopes.
While the league standings may have juggled, or at least saw some gaps close and expand this weekend, so too did the PairWise rankings as they relate to Hockey East teams.
Boston College, with a win in the Beanpot over BU and Friday’s win at Providence, have moved to No. 2 in the PairWise. Wondering how close BC is to the top spot? It’s actually not very close right now. BC losses all three of the comparisons to Yale. Though a win tonight could give the Eagles a higher RPI than Yale, it still won’t impact the common opponents or teams-under-consideration criteria.
Merrimack, almost fittingly, was the biggest jumper in the PairWise and currently is tied for fourth with Denver (Merrimack loses the tie breaker right now with a lower RPI). Thus, if the tournament began today, Merrimack would be a number two seed, quite impressive for a team that was on the bubble a few weeks ago.
New Hampshire, of course, fell to ninth in the PairWise and right now represents Hockey East’s third and final NCAA tournament hope. BU has dropped to 17th and will have to make up ground in the final five weeks before the NCAA field is announced.