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Hockey East playoff update (Saturday)

Just three points separate the top six teams in the Hockey East standings.

With last night's results, the top of the pack in Hockey East got even closer if that is at all possible. The top six teams in the standings are separated by just three points. Merrimack and UNH have 27 points while Boston University and UMass-Lowell have 24.

Tonight's game between Maine and UMass-Amherst at the Mullins Center is potentially a must-win for the Minutemen. After last night's 2-0 shutout loss, John Micheletto's team finds itself a point behind Maine for the 8th and final playoff spot. A loss tonight would mean the Minutemen are three points out of a playoff spot with four games to play. Making matters worse, UMass finishes with two games each against UNH and Merrimack. Three out of those four games are on the road.

Providence took care of business last night in a home game against last place Northeastern. The Friars played until the final whistle and won easily 6-2. Nate Leaman's club has a golden opportunity to pick up two more points tonight at Northeastern before a tough finish to the season against BC and UMass-Lowell.

BU and UML are tied for 5th place with 24 points each. The two teams play each other tonight in the final game of their weekend series. The River Hawks won 3-0 last night at Agganis Arena. With UML up 2-0 on the season series, the River Hawks are assured of winning the head-to-head tiebreaker if the two teams finish the season tied. BU does have the edge in the remaining schedule. The Terriers host Vermont for two before a home-and-home with Northeastern. UML finishes with two home-and-home series against Merrimack and Providence. Both UML and BU have a solo game Tuesday night against BC and Merrimack respectively.

Following last night's results, Providence and New Hampshire officially clinched playoff berths. If UMass-Amherst loses tonight, BU and UML will clinch a spot in the post-season.

Merrimack and UNH can both finish no lower than 7th place. If UNH defeats or ties UVM tonight, that will be mean the Warriors and Wildcats both will have the six seed or higher in the tournament.

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