It is absolutely go-time for every team looking to play in some playoff hockey, and many coaches would argue that the playoffs have already begun in contests between teams looking to assure qualification or improve their standing in the league. Last week, my 5-4-1 (.550) picks hardly qualified me for being playoff ready, but there are still a couple more weeks for redemption. The season total now stands at 71-33-11 (.665), which probably doesn’t earn me a home-ice berth so time to kick the prognostication game into high gear. Here are this week’s picks.Thursday, Feb. 8Worcester State at Salem StateBoth teams are looking to step up their game in the drive for the MASCAC playoffs. Expect this one to feature the skill of two terrific goaltenders in Josh Reinstein for the Lancers and Jason Pucciarelli for the Vikings. It will be close, and the home team gets it done on the power play. Salem State 2-1No. 15 Plymouth State at Massachusetts-DartmouthThe Panthers’ long winning streak was snapped by Fitchburg State last weekend, so look for a new sense of purpose and urgency from the visitors, who will want to jump out fast on the talented Corsairs. All phases of the game are working for the Panthers, who want to take the regular season title. Plymouth State 5-2Friday, Feb. 9No. 6 Salve Regina at NicholsThe Seahawks are right there in the battle for the top spot in the conference, but face a difficult Nichols team. Both teams have talent up front, but Blake Wojtala has proven to be a big-game goaltender and gets the nod here for the win. Salve Regina 3-2No. 12 Hobart at No. 11 NorwichThe Cadets appear to have the top seed in the NEHC sown up, but will want to send a message to the conference newcomers about where the title goes through. Braeden Ostepchuk keeps the visitors at bay, and a late goal sends the Northfield faithful home happy. Norwich 2-1No. 7 Geneseo at No. 4 OswegoThe Lakers have got it going good right now, as evidenced by last weekend’s sweep of Buffalo State and Fredonia. Geneseo made short work of Canton and should be ready for the battle between the two top teams in the conference. I would like to pick a tie here, but the home team gets some puck luck late. Oswego 3-2No. 9 Utica at StevensonThe battle in the UCHC is so close that you could go from first to sixth on the basis of a single weekend. Utica jumped back to the top after a four-point weekend last week and doesn’t want to lose focus on the road against a tough Mustangs team in contention. Close one goes to the visitors, maybe in OT. Utica 3-2Saturday, Feb. 10No. 10 University of New England at No. 8 EndicottThe Nor’easters are still within striking distance of the top spot in the CCC, and this weekend’s games against Endicott will go a long way in determining where they sit in the playoff seeding. The Gulls have stumbled recently against other competitors at home, and the Nor’easters are definitely aware of the opportunity to continue that trend. University of New England 5-4Connecticut College at HamiltonThe Camels are sitting in second place, but there are several teams within a couple of points that would love to move up. Connor Rodericks has been great in goal, and he will need to be against a resurgent Continentals squad that might be getting healthy at the right time. Hamilton 3-1Tufts at AmherstThe Jumbos have given everyone a battle, so the Mammoths better expect a playoff-style game. Nik Nugnes has found his game in goal and will keep things close, but I don’t think the visitors can mount enough offense. Amherst 2-1Lebanon Valley at ManhattanvilleThese two contenders both need these two points, but the home team actually needs them more. The Valiants prove they can protect a third-period lead and eke this one out in dramatic fashion to keep the drama going in the conference standings. Manhattanville 4-3The only thing you can control is how you play in the game you are in. Focus is critical right now, as are the points needed to stay in the playoff picture — “Drop the Puck!”
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