Hockey East Week 18 Preview: Important battles for playoff positioning highlight weekend slate

Several of this weekend's Hockey East match-ups will be key for positioning in the league standings. On Friday, BC and Merrimack will meet with sole possession of first place on the line, while UVM and Northeastern lock in a key lower-half match.

Boston University at Maine (Friday at 7:30, NBCSN; Saturday at 7:00, NESN)

After this past Monday’s Beanpot consolation loss to Harvard and Thursday’s announced suspension of sophomore Alexx Privitera for the remainder of the season, things have suddenly turned bleak for the No. 13 Terriers as they hit the road to hostile Alfond Arena for two weekend contests with the Black Bears.

Dating back to Jan. 18, the Terriers are just 1-5-1, matching their single worst seven-game stretch since Oct. 31-Nov. 21, 2009. However, seven of BU’s ten games since Jan. 4 have been decided by a single goal or ended in a tie.

Things started well in the season series for the Terriers as they earned the win in their lone previous meeting – a 1-0 decision at Agganis Arena on Dec. 8, 2012, backed by a 28-save effort from rookie Sean Maguire (who will start on Saturday) and a single goal from veteran local Garrett Noonan.

Despite the second-worst offense in the nation (averaging just 1.71 goals per-game), Maine rattled off a four-game unbeaten streak that was snapped in a 3-0 loss at Vermont last Saturday night. Senior Joey Diamond and freshman Devin Shore are the team’s point leaders, with 15 points and 11 assists, respectively.

Vermont at Northeastern (Friday & Saturday at 7:00)

Sophomore Kyle Reynolds and the Catamounts have momentum and a three-point cushion on eighth place on their side as they trek to Boston for a weekend duel with the cellar-dwelling Huskies at historic Matthews Arena.

With even just one win this weekend, UVM can make their differential on the Huskies that much better and take a crucial season series victory as it captured the lone meeting to this point, beating NU by a 3-2 count on Nov. 18, 2012.

Reynolds, an Alberta native, has scored a pair of goals in two of his last three games and six over the last six contests. Also in Saturday’s game, se­­­nior Chris McCarthy posted a goal and two assists to lead the Catamount attack.

On the Huskies’ side, no rookie skater has been more dominant this season than Kevin Roy, who was named Beanpot Tournament Most Valuable Player for his combined five-goal performance. ­­­­After a 3-2 semifinal win over BU, Northeastern advanced to the title game for the second time in three years, falling to Boston College, 6-3. His semifinal hat trick was the tournament’s first by a freshman since BC’s Krys Kolanos in 2000.

In addition to Roy’s honor, senior stopper Chris Rawlings is Hockey East’s reigning Defensive Player of the Week after making 32 saves in the opening-round ‘Pot win.

UMass-Lowell vs. Massachusetts (Friday in Amherst at 7:00; Saturday in Lowell at 7:00)

UML and UMass currently sit sixth and seventh in the Hockey East standings as they enter a home-and-home weekend series to conclude the annual Alumni Cup clash between the UMass system’s two Division I hockey institutions.

The River Hawks, currently three points ahead of their sister school, opened the season series with a bang on Nov. 18, 2012, traveling to Amherst and exiting with an 8-2 win.

Lowell senior Riley Wetmore needs just two points to reach the century mark for his career and currently leads the River Hawk offensive attack with ten goals. The Swanton, Vt. native has dressed for all 136 games of his career, scoring 48 times.

Minuteman junior Michael Pereira has had UML’s number throughout his career, having posted four goals and two assists in seven career match-ups. In the UMass goal, sophomore Kevin Boyle has been stellar of late, rising to second in the league with a 2.08 goals against-average.

In Sunday’s 4-2 loss at Merrimack, junior Branden Gracel scored his team-leading 13th goal of the season, which was UMass’ sixth on the shorthand this year – the program’s highest mark since 2003-04.

Boston College at Merrimack (Friday at 7:30), vs. New Hampshire (Sunday at 4:00)

With their fourth straight Beanpot title in a row now in hand, the Eagles head to Lawler Arena on Friday night – with first place at stake – for the first of two road games in a row in North Andover.

BC came from three goals down to win the first meeting of the season between the teams, by a 4-3 count on Nov. 16, 2012. BC senior Steven Whitney potted two goals to lead the comeback in that contest, beating Merrimack junior and fellow Mass. native Sam Marotta (38 saves), who has overtaken sophomore Rasmus Tirronen for the starting gig under head coach Mark Dennehy.

Now ranked 19th in the nation, the Warriors have accumulated a 6-1-1 mark in their last eight games, including three straight victories. Sunday’s victory over UMass was the seventh in a row in the all-time series at home. Junior Mike Collins continues to lead Hockey East with 34 points on the season.

Following a day off, the No. 4 Eagles return to Kelley Rink to host No. 5 UNH in another key positional battle, which will also decide a season series. The Wildcats posted a 2-1 win in their last meeting on Jan. 12, while the Eagles were emphatic 5-2 victors at home the previous evening.

UNH is just 2-2-1 in its last five games after earning just one of four points from a home-and-home set against Providence. Back on Sunday, senior Scott Pavelski tied the game at 3-3 with 3:26 remaining to help the ‘Cats to their only point of the set.

Merrimack at Providence (Sunday at 4:00, Cox)

After hosting the defending national champion Eagles on Friday, the Warriors head south to face the Providence Friars at Schneider Arena for the closure of their season series. The contest marks the first of three Sunday games in a row for the Warriors with the final two coming in succession at Lawler Arena against BC and UML.

The sides split a weekend set at the end of November, posting two points each in a pair of exciting one-goal wins. Sophomore Josh Myers led the Warriors to a 2-1 victory on the road back on Dec. 1, 2012, while Tirronen made 34 saves.

The Friars are coming off a 1-0 win over New Hampshire on Wednesday in which rookie Jon Gilliees made 37 saves for his fourth shutout of the season. In his return to the PC line-up, Stefan Demopoulous scored the lone goal past Casey DeSmith with 2:48 left.

Joshua Kummins covers Hockey East for SB Nation. Follow him on Twitter @JoshuaKummins.

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