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Three things to watch: Big weekend for the middle of the pack

The common theme in this week's three things to watch is playoff positioning. This is the fun time of the year when conference playoff races heat up and teams start scoreboard watching.

1. Providence begins a key stretch, playing at red hot UMass-Lowell Thursday night. Following that game, the Friars play five of six against Boston College or New Hampshire. Sitting in fourth place currently, PC needs to ride freshman goaltender Jon Gillies to keep the team afloat during this stretch. The Friars could really use a road victory to propel them further up the standings, away from Merrimack and UMass-Lowell. A loss Thursday night could be the beginning of a significant slide that sees their grip on home ice slip away.

2. Maine hosts Merrimack for a pair this weekend in Orono, to conclude the season series in a period of just eight days. After the Warriors pummeled Maine 6-0 in North Andover last Saturday it appears these two teams are headed in opposite directions. However, this series is crucial for each team. Merrimack is in a battle for the last home ice spot and needs to gain points this weekend before entering a five game stretch playing UNH three times and Lowell and Boston University once each. For Maine, they are currently sitting well outside, looking in on the last playoff spot. Picking up points is a must unless the Black Bears want to miss the playoffs for the second time in six seasons. Tim Whitehead's squad is still winless at the Alfond Arena, which would have been unspeakable just a few years ago.

3. Northeastern squares off against cross-town rivals Boston University and Boston College this weekend. The Huskies also are entering a tough portion of their schedule. Following this weekend, NU has a home-and-home with Lowell and then faces UNH in a solo contest the weekend prior to the Beanpot. Sitting in 9th place currently, Jim Madigan's squad cannot afford to fall too far behind. Northeastern certainly doesn't want to miss the playoffs for a second year in a row.