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Hockey East Week 20 Preview: Four teams tied for first as second-to-last weekend commences

Heading into the final two weeks of the regular season in Hockey East play, each team has two weekend series remaining on the schedule. Friday night series openers include Valley rivals Merrimack and UMass Lowell from the Tsongas Center as well as Boston College at Providence.

Matt Dresens/The BU Hockey Blog

Merrimack vs. UMass Lowell
Friday: 7 p.m. at Lawler Arena; Sunday: 4 p.m. at J. Thom Lawler Arena (CBSSN)

Perhaps the weekend's marquee match takes place in a home-and-home series between classic Merrimack Valley rivals No. 17 Merrimack and No. 10/12 UMass Lowell on Friday night and Sunday afternoon. The teams ride into the weekend in opposite directions as the Warriors have lost two in a row, while the 'Hawks are unbeaten in four straight games since a Feb. 3 loss at Maine.

Merrimack enters after a short week of practice as it suffered a season sweep of Boston University with a 5-2 loss on Tuesday night at Agganis Arena. The Warriors allowed the first five goals of the game, but junior captain Jordan Heywood found the back of the net twice in the final period to account for all of MC's offense.

Despite a rough outing on Tuesday, junior Sam Marotta, a Bridgewater, Mass. native, was named Hockey East's Stop It Goaltender of the Month for February as he posted a 4-2-1 record, including a pair of 35+ save outings that saw him allow just two goals total.

UML junior Joseph Pendenza posted a goal and an assist in each end of last weekend's sweep of BU to earn Conference Player of the Week honors. In goal, rookie Connor Hellebuyck was named Player of the Month as he earned victories in all five of his appearances, including a 25-save road shutout last Friday.

In the lone previous meeting between the teams this year, Merrimack rookie Justin Hussar scored the only goal in a 1-0 Warrior win on Nov. 16, 2012 at Lawler Arena.

Boston College vs. Providence
Friday: 7 p.m. at Schneider Arena; Saturday: 4 p.m. at Kelley Rink (NESN)

The No. 4 Eagles and No. 20 Friars skated to a 3-3 tie on Dec. 7, 2012 in Providence and will return to Schneider Arena to open the weekend on Friday night. In that contest, rookie Nick Saracino stole a point for the Friars by scoring the game-tying goal with 10.1 seconds remaining to snap BC's 12-game streak without a loss in the series.

Providence enters the weekend in the midst of a national-best seven-game unbeaten streak (3-0-4), which included two wins over Northeastern last weekend. Rookie Mainer Jon Gillies has amassed a a 1.91 goals-against and .941 save percentage in that stretch, while sophomore Ross Mauermann assured a second-straight season with ten goals by finding the back of the net in Saturday's 3-2 win at Matthews Arena.

Eagle senior Steven Whitney has posted 20 goals to lead the team (and rank in a tie for second in the nation) and trails sophomore Johnny Gaudreau for the team lead with 35 points. The Reading, Mass. native has scored 20 in the third period and overtime to lead all scorers across the nation.

Despite Tuesday's 4-2 loss to UMass Lowell in Chestnut Hill (which broke a stretch of three consecutive overtime games in a row), BC has still won 87.1 percent of its games over the last four seasons after Feb. 1 and is 49-6-3 in that stretch.

Northeastern at Maine
Friday & Saturday: 7 p.m. at Alfond Arena (WABI-TV 5)

The race at the bottom of the standings is very hotly contested heading into the final full month of the college hockey season and that stretch kicks off at Alfond Arena as Northeastern and Maine fight for the final spot. In a 1-1 tie at Matthews Arena on Jan. 11, NU freshman Kevin Roy scored and senior Chris Rawlings posted 42 saves to help the Huskies get off the losing track in 2013.

NU has struggled mightily in Orono of late as it has dropped its last four meetings to the Black Bears, dating back to Oct. 25, 2008, so the Huskies will have to forget recent history in order to help make up a four-point deficit to the final Hockey East playoff spot.

Sophomore Josh Manson has scored his first three career goals as a Husky in each of the last three games, including his first-career strike on the power play on Saturday.

The Black Bears enter their final two home games of the season off a split with rival UMass last weekend at Mullins Center in Amherst. Rookie Devin Shore leads Maine with 17 assists and 20 points, while classmate Ben Hutton posted three points over the two games last Friday and Saturday. In addition, UM sophomore Jake Rutt of Scarborough, Maine has posted seven of his 13 career points over the last six games.

Vermont at Boston University
Friday: 7:30 p.m. & Saturday: 7 p.m. at Agganis Arena

The No. 19 Terriers will look to keep on the winning track as they host Vermont to close the season series with a pair of contests at Agganis Arena this weekend. With a 6-2 win at Gutterson Fieldhouse back on Nov. 16, 2012, BU has the upper hand in the set and needs just one win to take the overall victory.

In the first and only meeting to this point on the season, six different BU players scored goals and freshman Sean Maguire made 42 saves to earn his first-career win. The Catamounts, which earned a point in a 1-1 tie with No. 5 New Hampshire on Saturday, are 4-4-3 over their previous 11 games at Agganis with nine of those games being decided by a goal or less.

On Tuesday against Merrimack, junior Matt Nieto led the Terriers with two second-period goals and an assist and rookie Matt O'Connor earned his eighth victory with 32 saves.

In the Saturday draw, sophomore Jacob Fallon scored the lone goal for the Catamounts in the middle period, while rookie Brody Hoffman made 21 stops.

Massachusetts at New Hampshire
Friday: 7:30 p.m. & Saturday: 7 p.m. at Whittemore Center (WBIN)

Fresh off clinching their 25th consecutive playoff berth in Hockey East, the No. 5 Wildcats are taking to the confines of their sweet Whittemore Center home for the final four games of the regular season, beginning with a weekend pair against border rival Massachusetts.

UNH played just two February home games, but returns to Durham to finish off the year, where it is 9-3-1. With their three-point weekend over Vermont, the Wildcats jumped into a tie for first in the conference standings for the first time since Feb. 25, 2011. In a 4-3 win on Friday night, senior defenseman Austin Block posted a pair of goals on five shots, while Trevor van Reimsdyk totaled a goal and four points over both nights.

Junior Conor Sheary, a Melrose native, played in his 100th career game in Saturday's 5-2 UMass win and posted his 13th career multi-point game with a goal and an assist.

Joshua Kummins covers Hockey East for SB Nation. Follow him on Twitter @JoshuaKummins.