First time for everything: Hockey East crowns three champs

A year ago people thought it was strange – though not unprecedented – that Hockey East had co-champs as Boston College and Providence tied for first. So why not top that, right?

1. Three-way tie for first ends crazy final weekend in Hockey East

It was less than a month ago that I called the race for first-place in Hockey East a two-horse race between Boston College and Boston University. Heck, BC had a three point lead on the Terriers but it was another five points back to third-place Vermont. And there were only a four weekends left before a champion would be crowned.

That’s when all hell broke loose. The Eagles won just once in league play in February. BU was a little better, going 3-2-1 in the year’s shortest month.

Then there was UMass Lowell. The River Hawks were a perfect 7-0-0 in February and despite being 10 points out when the groundhog saw his shadow, Lowell rallied to jump into a tie for first after completing a sweep of Boston College on Friday night.

There was still waiting for the River Hawks as Notre Dame, itself red hot and unbeaten in February heading in Saturday’s finale with BU, could pass everyone with a season-ending win. But when BU took a 4-1 decision, Hockey East had its first three-way tie for the regular season title.

The trio of Lowell, BU and BC will share the title, though the River Hawks take the top seed in the playoffs based on the second tiebreaker (most league wins, 14). BU is seeded second and BC third. Notre Dame gets the final first-round bye.

2. Who’s hot heading to the playoffs

Lowell and Notre Dame aren’t the only teams that played well and made moves in the final month of the regular season. On February 1, Providence was in eighth place. Until the second-to-last night of the season, Providence still had a chance at a first-round bye thanks to a 6-1-1 finish.

Merrimack’s move in the standings wasn’t as dramatic, but a 4-1-3 finish propelled Merrimack to seventh, allowing them to host New Hampshire in the first round for the second straight season.

Northeastern also jumped into a home-ice spot in the first round after a 4-2-0 finish in league play and they’ll host Connecticut. The Huskies, for the first time all season, seems pretty healthy.

3. Who’s not-so-hot heading to the playoffs

We mentioned Boston College’s struggles down the stretch, but they’re not the only team to tumble late in the season.

New Hampshire was fifth in the standings on Feb. 1 and finished 10th, going 1-6-1 down the stretch including a sweep at the hands of UConn on the final weekend, losing the opportunity to host a first-round series.

Vermont put together some gutsy performances against a tough schedule down the stretch, but a 2-3-3 record in February dropped the Catamounts from third to sixth. It also pulled Vermont below the Mendoza line in the PairWise, though they’ll get a chance at additional wins in the Hockey East tournament needing four wins to get to the TD Garden.

Connecticut swept the final weekend against New Hampshire, so you can’t call them cold. But a six-game winless skid prior cost UConn its chance host a first-round series.

And then there’s Maine and Massachusetts. Both teams showed life this weekend, Maine beating Northeastern on the final night and UMass taking Providence to overtime before falling, 2-1. Both have tough roads ahead in the playoffs. Maine closed with a 1-6-1 month of February while UMass hasn’t won a Hockey East game since upsetting Notre Dame way back on December 2.