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Hockey East weekend observations: Lowell, Providence sweep

BU coach Jack Parker was not dissatisfied with his team's effort after being swept by Lowell, but quipped that his players are gripping their sticks too tight.

Jack Parker
Jack Parker

UMass-Lowell was the big winner in Hockey East this weekend as the River Hawks swept Boston University in a home-and-home series. UML shutout BU through two periods before eventually giving up the only goal of the weekend while shorthanded in the third period Saturday night. Scott Wilson, Derek Arnold and Joseph Pendenza are getting hot at the right time. UML looked like the faster team and certainly played with more desire.

BU coach Jack Parker continues to talk about his team playing scared and "gripping their sticks too tight." Another issue for BU has been the recurring theme of turnovers and costly mental errors. After Tuesday night's clash with Merrimack, the Terriers do have an easier schedule with three home games and all four against UVM and Northeastern.

Providence also picked up four points on the weekend, albeit against a lesser opponent. The Friars swept last place Northeastern with ease. Stefan Demopoulos had two goals and three assists Friday night as the first line with Mark Jankowski, Tim Schaller and Demopoulos had a big game. Along with Ross Mauermann and Derek Army, the offense will need to pick up the pace to be a factor deep in March.

Northeastern is now three points in back of Maine and four in back of UMass for the final playoff spot. With the Huskies traveling to Orono this weekend, less than three points might spell doom for their chances at the post-season. It certainly would not be a good start to the Jim Madigan era, missing the league playoffs two years in a row. Goaltending issues continue to be the crux of their problems.

New Hampshire picked up three important points in Burlington as the Wildcats look to take advantage of their late season schedule. UNH plays the last four at home against UMass and Maine. Dick Umile's club needs to finish the chances they get and avoid turnovers. The Wildcats defense is very good at moving the puck up ice in transition, but defending their own cage is not their strength.

Vermont's late season schedule of death might not cost them a playoff spot, but the Catamounts will have to do some serious scoreboard watching. UVM is three points up on ninth place Maine, but has a much harder schedule with BU and BC on the horizon.

UMass split with Maine to stay one point ahead in the race for the final playoff spot. Sophomore goaltender Kevin Boyle was yanked Friday night after giving up two goals. The offense has started to pick it up, but inconsistent goaltending will be a sour note when coach John Micheletto looks back at how his first season went in Amherst.

Maine shutout the aforementioned Minutemen Friday night, but a lackluster third period Saturday prevented more than two points on the weekend. Maine had rallied from being down 2-0 to tie UMass after two, but gave up three goals in the final period to lose 5-2. Maine has a much easier weekend than UVM and UMass this weekend. There is no excuse for not taking at least three points from a depleted Northeastern squad on senior weekend in Orono.

In the marquee game of the weekend on national television, Boston College and Merrimack lived up to the hype. It was an exciting game, won by the Eagles 2-1 in overtime. Merrimack controlled much of the play, but lacks finishers. A lot of the shots on goal were from the perimeter, and the few breakaway opportunities they had never showed a serious chance of going in. The inability to finish plays and the lack of chances in tight will be Merrimack's achilles heal.

For BC, after a rough stretch in January the Eagles only lost once in February, a 2-1 overtime loss to Merrimack last weekend. Steven Whitney is red hot with ten goals in his last ten games. Johnny Gaudreau has not fared as well since being separated from Whitney. Smart money is still on BC making it deep into the playoffs, but the lack of depth will come down to hurt the Eagles if they have to face a team like Minnesota in the NCAAs.

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