Hockey East: Teams battle for playoff positioning

Hockey East teams will be battling for playoff positioning this weekend with several key games on the docket.

Whether teams are fighting for the regular season championship, Pairwise positioning, home ice or playoff berths, the key for teams in Hockey East this weekend is to win the battle to get one step closer to what they are fighting for.

1. Friday night is Jerry York Night at Boston College where the school will honor the legendary head coach for his milestone win back in December. That in and of itself is a huge occasion, but there will also be a big game on the ice that night with UMass-Lowell paying a visit to Conte Forum.

Overlooking the sentimental value of winning on the night they honor their coach, the game is less meaningful on the ice for BC. The Eagles are two points up on New Hampshire for first place in the league. BC was in a funk until back-to-back 4-1 wins first over Vermont in league play and then Harvard in the opening round of the Beanpot.

This is a huge game for UMass-Lowell, having lost two in a row. The River Hawks had an 11 game unbeaten streak prior to last weekend's pair of losses to Merrimack and Maine. Those two losses sent UML's Pairwise hopes plummeting from 7th to 18th. Generally speaking, the top 15 teams in the Pairwise Rankings make the NCAA Tournament. A crucial component of the Pairwise is the factor involving record against teams under consideration (TUC's). UML's record in that category is not very good so any win against a TUC is a big one. Suffice to say, UML is in dire need of a win against BC Friday night in Chestnut Hill.

2. Two more key games this weekend pit teams in the bottom four of the league standings. Friday night Northeastern travels to UMass-Amherst while Saturday night Maine will visit Vermont. Northeastern is in last place, but only four points shy of 7th place UMass-Amherst. 8th place Maine is just a point ahead of Vermont and two ahead of Northeastern. These games are so critical because they could essentially be four-point swings one way or the other.

Both UMass and Northeastern are coming off victories over Boston University. The Minutemen defeated BU 5-1 last Friday night while the Huskies earned a 3-2 victory over the Terriers in the opening round of the Beanpot.

Vermont is 1-6-0 since the calendar turned to 2013 while Maine is now 3-0-1 in their last four and, believe it or not, 7-5-5 since November 10th. This is a game that Maine could certainly use to continue swinging momentum in their direction. UVM must take advantage of this game and two next weekend against Northeastern before a brutal stretch of six game against UNH, BU and BC.

3. Two weeks ago it looked like Merrimack had made a nice run, but a tough schedule would catch up to them. Following their weekend in Orono, Merrimack sat at 7-5-2 in conference action with six of those seven wins coming against the three bottom teams in the standings. The Warriors still had ahead of them three with UNH, two with BC, one with BU and three against surging Lowell.

Two weekends later, the Warriors find themselves in third place in the conference after going 3-1 the past two weekends, including two win over UNH. This is not a make or break weekend for Mark Dennehy's club, but picking up two points or more could solidify their potential for home ice. Merrimack faces a slumping BU team at Agganis Arena Friday night before hosting UMass-Amherst Saturday.

Warriors goaltender Sam Marotta stopped 76 of 77 shots last weekend. No one is expecting a repeat performance anytime soon, but his play the past month has certainly eased the pain of losing All-American goalie Joe Cannata.

4. Providence and New Hampshire get together for a home-and-home series starting Friday night at PC's Schneider Arena and will finish with a Sunday afternoon clash in Durham. This could potentially be a significant weekend -- good or bad -- for either team.

The Friars are in fifth place, but only three points in back of second place New Hampshire. Providence won in Durham the last time these two teams met. This weekend is important for Nate Leaman's club to make sure they stay in the chase for home ice.

What in December would have been unfathomable is now a real possibility for Dick Umile's Wildcats. Home ice is no longer a lock for UNH, and the team needs to start playing better and more consistent hockey. With a relatively easy schedule remaining, UNH should find itself hosting a playoff series at the Whittemore Center, but this weekend could have a big impact on that outcome.

UNH has a vastly superior offense on paper and more puck-moving defensemen. In the first half they had the best goalie in the country, but Casey DeSmith has fallen off his game. Providence freshman goalie Jon Gillies will need to steal a game this weekend for PC like Marotta did last weekend for Merrimack.

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