Hockey East: Inside the numbers for playoff positioning

Boston College's Kevin Hayes - Kim Klement-US PRESSWIRE

Taking a look at remaining schedules and some magic numbers for clinching a playoff spot. In the next few weeks, it will be time to begin talking magic numbers for home ice and regular season champion.

With each league team having anywhere from eight to ten conference games remaining, the battle for playoff positioning is in overdrive. Last weekend's result that most changed the playoff race was Merrimack winning twice over the weekend, first against UMass-Lowell and then against New Hampshire.

At the bottom of the standings Maine has climbed over Vermont and Northeastern into the final playoff position for the time being. Thanks to a 5-1 upset win over Boston University, UMass has given themselves some breathing room from the bottom three.

As far as the Pairwise is concerned, only Boston College and New Hampshire look solidly in the NCAA Tournament. The Eagles and Wildcats sit 4th and 5th in the Pairwise, respectively.

Boston University is less fortunate, but still currently sits on the inside of the bubble at 13th. The Terriers have been inconsistent for most of the second half. BU has a chance to pick up wins in the remaining part of the season with three of the last four series being against the bottom three in the league standings. However, BU's record against teams under consideration needs to improve.

UMass-Lowell's stock dropped big time after a winless weekend against Merrimack and Maine. The two losses sent UML descending in the Pairwise Rankings from 7th to 18th. The River Hawks' record against teams under consideration is a dismal 2-7-0.

Merrimack and Providence are both in the mid 20s in the Pairwise rankings and would need to go on serious runs to become a threat to receive at-large berths.

Cutting back to the Hockey East playoff picture, let's take an updated look at where each team stands and what is on the horizon.

Boston College plays just once this weekend at home against UMass-Lowell. After that, five of the remaining seven games are on the road. BC will definitely win enough to get home ice, but if they slouch at all, they could lose the number one seed.

New Hampshire plays four of the next five on the road, but the last two of those are against Vermont. The Wildcats finish out the regular season with four home games against UMass-Amherst and Maine. The Wildcats just need to get through these next three games and then should coast to a home ice spot.

Merrimack has a big opportunity Friday night to separate themselves from BU. Two tough games, albeit home ones, remain against Boston College. The Warriors also have three games, including this Saturday night, against UMass.

As previously stated, Boston University has six of the last eight games of the season against the current bottom three teams in the league standings. BU is slumping right now, but have too much talent to not take advantage of those games.

With the exception of a home-and-home series against Northeastern, Providence has a tough schedule to close out the year starting this weekend with a home-and-home against UNH. Freshman goalie Jon Gillies will need to stand tall for PC to capture home ice.

UMass-Lowell has the unenviable task of trying to end a two-game losing skid while going up against Boston College Friday night on Jerry York Night at the Heights. However, UML will have a chance to move up in the standings as they play a home-and-home against each of the three teams directly above them in the standings to close out the season.

Coming off a 5-1 win over BU, UMass-Amherst has a chance to keep the ball rolling in the right direction when hosting Northeastern Friday night. That win gave the Minutemen a little breathing room, but they still have work to do.

Maine is 3-0-1 in their last four games, which bodes well for their confidence. The Black Bears need to take advantage of Saturday's game at UVM and the pair of home games against last place Northeastern in a few weekends. Two-game sets at Massachusetts and UNH each also await.

Vermont plays Maine for a single game this weekend, then travels to Northeastern for a pair before playing their last six games against UNH, BU and BC. That is not the prescription the doctor would order for crawling back to a playoff position. Add to that, the Catamounts are 1-6 in their last seven. The chances of UVM making the playoffs are slim.

Northeastern certainly has goaltending issues, but Monday night at the Beanpot, Chris Rawlings got the job done in the 3-2 upset win over BU. What has to be frustrating for the Huskies' faithful is the team's ability to get up for certain games and then lay an egg in others. NU will have adequate opportunity to gain ground on their nearest opposition with two games each against UVM and Maine down the road.

Magic Number for clinching a playoff berth:

Boston College......6

New Hampshire.....8

Merrimack..............8 *

Boston University..10

Providence............11

UMass-Lowell........11 *

UMass-Amherst.....15 *

Maine.....................18

* Teams that hold the tiebreaker over UVM

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