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Hockey East Week 21 Preview: Four jockey for league title entering final weekend of regular season

Entering the final weekend of the Hockey East conference schedule, four teams - UMass Lowell, Boston College, New Hampshire and Providence - are jockeying for position to win the league's regular season title and clinch the top seed in next week's quarterfinal round.

Matt Dresens/The BU Hockey Blog

Entering the final weekend of the Hockey East conference schedule, four teams are jockeying for position to win the league's regular season title and clinch the top seed in next week's quarterfinal round.

Following the conclusion of Saturday night's games, the playoff picture will be set, but here's a look at where things stand as of now:


Now, onto the weekend slate...

No. 18 Providence vs. No. 7 UMass Lowell
Friday: 7 p.m. at Tsongas Center; Saturday: 7 p.m. at Schneider Arena

The Friars and River Hawks, which lock in a home-and-home series on the final weekend, are both vying to be the first team other than Boston College, Boston University, Maine or New Hampshire to win the league title and first playoff seed outright.

Both teams enter the contest on considerable hot streaks with Lowell having won a national-best seven in a row, while Providence is 4-1-4 in nine games. UML captured the opener of this year's three meetings on Jan. 17 with a 2-1 win at Schneider Arena. Junior defenseman Chad Ruhwedel scored the winning goal, despite a career-best 48-save performance from stellar Friar rookie Jon Gillies.

Led by a pair of goals in the first period from junior Josh Holmstrom, UML jumped into first place in the league standings with a 3-1 win at Lawler Arena last Sunday, marking the latest it led the conference in history.

Providence blew host BC out of the water in its own barn on Saturday afternoon as rookie Noel Acciari scored twice in a 5-1 win that salvaged a weekend split in their first win over the Eagles since Feb. 2008.

No. 6 Boston College at Vermont
Friday & Saturday: 7:05 p.m. at Gutterson Fieldhouse (CatamounTV and WCAX)

The Eagles, which are just 2-3-1 since beating Northeastern for the Beanpot title on Feb. 11, conclude their successful regular season with a pair of weekend games in Burlington, their first trip to the Green Mountains in over a year. Both sides are coming off weekend splits that included wins on enemy soil.

Despite three straight meetings between the sides on Chestnut Hill since Feb. 10, 2012, UVM is 5-2-2 in the last nine games between the teams played on home soil. BC's Parker Milner pitched a 38-save gem and sophomore Quinn Smith scored the winning goal (to break into his torrid second-half streak) in a 4-1 win over the Cats on Feb. 1 at Kelley Rink.

UVM is 5-3-1 in its last nine games, including last weekend's split at Boston University that included a 5-2 Saturday win with five different scorers. Junior Chris McCarthy led the way with a goal and two assists.

Massachusetts vs. Merrimack
Friday: 7:30 p.m. at Lawler Arena (WBIN/FCS Atlantic); Saturday: 7 p.m. at Mullins Center (CBS3)

After suffering a weekend sweep at the hands of rival UMass Lowell last week, the Warriors were eliminated from contention for the top seed in the Hockey East standings, but can still climb as high as second with a successful weekend against the Mass Attack to close the regular slate.

The series marks the fourth time in six years that Merrimack and UMass have closed the season against each other.

Last Friday's 4-0 loss at Tsongas Center marked the first time Merrimack was shutout in 42 games, dating back to defeat in the same building on Feb. 10, 2012. Junior Shawn Bates bounced back for the Warriors' only goal on the weekend in Sunday's third period.

UMass junior Michael Pereira scored his 13th goal of the season in his 100th-career game in Friday's 2-2 tie at UNH. In addition, Connor Allen leads a group of four Minutemen defensemen with ten or more points on the season.

Maine at No. 4 New Hampshire
Friday: 7:30 p.m. (NBCSN) & Saturday: 4 p.m. (NESN) at Whittemore Center

Two of college hockey's biggest rivals - Maine and No. 4 UNH - face-off this weekend in Durham for the annual "White Out The Whit" contests, both of which will be televised. Dating back to 2005, the Wildcats are a perfect 9-for-9 in the series on true home ice, despite three losses at Manchester, N.H.'s Verizon Wireless Arena in that span.

Saturday night's 4-0 win over UMass broke a span of seven straight games in which UNH's opponent scored first, but the 'Cats were resilient as they lost just twice in that stretch. Senior John Henrion scored three goals and sophomore Casey DeSmith made 25 saves in the contest to lead the Wildcats.

Last weekend, the Black Bears ousted Northeastern from playoff contention with three points, including a 3-1 win on Friday. Maine scored each of its goals in the third period to earn the victory, before a 4-4 tie the following night. Freshman Ben Hutton is in the midst of a six-point stretch over five games and currently ranks third on the team with nine assists and 13 points.

Northeastern vs. Boston University
Friday: 7:30 p.m. at Matthews Arena (CBSSN); Saturday: 7 p.m. at Agganis Arena

The Huskies certainly hoped their final weekend of the season would not be for pride, but they look to end the year on a high note again by beating the No. 19 Terriers in a home-and-home series.

By virtue of an exciting 6-5 win at Agganis Arena on Jan. 18, just one win for NU on the weekend would clinch the season series from its Back Bay border rival. Thanks to a hat trick from freshman Kevin Roy, NU also advanced in their Beanpot semifinal meeting - a 3-2 win on Feb. 4 at TD Garden.

In the January match at Agganis Arena, Husky senior captain and former BU forward Vinny Saponari scored his second game-winner in a row against his former club. Over the two games, the Powder Springs, Ga. native needs just one point for 100 in his collegiate career and would become the fifth Hockey East player to hit the milestone this season.

With its 5-2 win over Merrimack last Tuesday, Feb. 26, BU avoided its first one-win February since 1953-54, but snapped an eight-game unbeaten streak over Vermont in Saturday's loss. In a 3-1 win on Friday, junior Matt Nieto scored the first Terrier hat trick since Brandon Yip at Providence on Mar. 6, 2009.

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