Hockey East: three things to watch this weekend

UNH players hope to earn the Hockey East Regular Season trophy this weekend as they take on arch-rival Maine twice.

In this week's installment of "Three things to watch" we take a look at what's still up for grabs in the Hockey East playoff race.

Going into the final weekend of regular season play in Hockey East, there are some certainties, but many more uncertainties. UMass-Lowell is the first team to clinch home ice and Northeastern is the first of two teams to be mathematically eliminated from making the league playoffs. Other than that, there is a lot up for grab in the final weekend.

1. The winner of the regular season championship is still undetermined. Heading into the weekend, UMass-Lowell has a one point edge on New Hampshire and a two-point lead on Boston College and Providence. The River Hawks will square off in a home-and-home series with Providence while UNH and BC have easier schedules on paper. The Wildcats face arch-rival Maine twice on home ice in Durham while BC travels to Burlington to take on 7th place Vermont. It is almost a certainty that the regular season champion will not be crowned until after play Saturday.

2. UMass-Lowell has wrapped up one of the home ice slots, but there are three home ice spots left to be secured. Common sense suggests that BC and UNH will secure two of those three spots with the opponents they face this weekend. The fourth spot will most likely come down to Providence and Boston University. The Terriers are two points in back of Providence right now, but face a depleted Northeastern squad this weekend with very little to play for except pride. Meanwhile, Providence will have to face a red hot UMass-Lowell team with a lot to play for. Merrimack sits in sixth place and has hit the skids with a four game losing streak. The Warriors would need a lot of help to get home ice. They would have to sweep UMass-Amherst and hope for BU to pick up no more than two points against NU and PC or BC to get swept.

3. The final playoff spot is the last thing up for grabs this weekend. It looks to be a battle between Maine and UMass-Amherst. The Black Bears enter the weekend in 8th place, just one point up on the Minutemen. Both teams face daunting opponents this weekend. Maine travels to Durham for a pair while UMass faces a home-and-home with Merrimack. UMass holds the tie-breaker between the two clubs. Vermont is in 7th place, two ahead of Maine and three ahead of UMass. While it is mathematically possible for UVM to fall into the 9th, it seems very unrealistic.

No matter what happens, the final weekend in Hockey East should be full of excitement and anxiety for league coaches, players and fans.

Jeff Cox covers college hockey for SBNation. Follow him on twitter @JeffCoxSBNation.

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