The Hockey East playoff race keeps tightening up as the top six teams in the league standings are separated by just five points with three weekends to play in the regular season.
Predicted to finish 8th in the pre-season by the league coaches, Merrimack now finds itself in first place after a three point weekend, including an overtime win over Boston College and a 2-2 tie with Providence.
The other big movers are further down the standings. UMass-Lowell's sweep over UMass-Amherst propelled them closer to the top mix with 22 points now. Vermont picked up four points in a weekend sweep at Northeastern, giving the Catamounts some breathing room in terms of making the playoffs. Both Lowell and UVM needed big weekends as the two teams have the toughest remaining schedules of any Hockey East team.
One of the most important series of this upcoming weekend could be when Maine travels to the Mullins Center to take on UMass-Amherst. The Black Bears are currently in 9th place, but only one point behind the Minutemen. Maine has the second easiest schedule remaining.
Another big series with home ice implications is the home-and-home between Boston University and UMass-Lowell. The Terriers are tied with Providence for fourth place, but just two points ahead of sixth place UML.
The marquee game of the week will be the rubber game between Merrimack and Boston College. The Eagles rallied from three down to defeat Merrimack back in November. Then last Friday night, Merrimack evened up the season series with a come-from-behind 2-1 overtime victory. A kicker to the upcoming tie-breaker game is that by the time it is played the two teams could be in fourth and fifth place, respectively. That is, if UNH, BU and Providence all sweep their weekend series.
Below is a look at the current Hockey East standings while analyzing each team's remaining opponents.
|Team||Points||Remaining Opponents||Average Points of Remaining Opponents||Schedule Rank|
|Merrimack||27||BC, BU, UML (2), UMA (2)||20.67||T-5th|
|Boston College||26||MC, UML, PC (2), UVM (2)||22.17||3rd|
|New Hampshire||25||UVM (2), UMA (2), Maine (2)||15.67||10th|
|Boston University||24||UML (2), MC, UVM (2), NU (2)||19.00||8th|
|Providence||24||NU (2), BC (2), UML (2)||20.33||7th|
|UMass-Lowell||22||BU (2), BC, MC (2), PC (2)||25.14||1st|
|Vermont||18||UNH (2), BU (2), BC (2)||25.00||2nd|
|UMass-Amherst||15||Maine (2), UNH (2), MC (2)||22.00||4th|
|Maine||14||UMA (2), NU (2), UNH (2)||17.67||9th|
|Northeastern||13||PC (2), Maine (2), BU (2)||20.67||T-5th|
Below is a look at each team's magic number for clinching a playoff spot.
|Boston University||2 *|
* indicates team who owns the tie-breaker against 9th place Maine. It is a mere formality that PC and BU will make the playoffs as UMass and Maine have to play each other this weekend.
Jeff Cox covers college hockey for SBNation. Follow him on twitter @JeffCoxSBNation.