It's all come down to the final two regular season games for playoff seeding in Hockey East. Northeastern is the only team mathematically locked into its current spot -- sixth place.
Providence College was the biggest winner over the weekend. After sweeping previously first place Notre Dame over the weekend, the Friars jumped from third to second with a series upcoming against last place Massachusetts.
The Friars rallied from a two-goal deficit in the third period for an overtime win on Friday night. Brandon Tanev and Brian Pinho scored with under 10 minutes to go to set the stage for Trevor Mingoia's heroics in the extra session. On Saturday Erik Foley and Tanev paced Providence to a 2-0 lead and Nick Ellis' 34 saves preserved a 3-1 victory.
The weekend didn't come without a loss for the Friars. Sophomore defenseman Jake Walman was possibly lost for a while with an upper body injury just seconds into Friday's contest. The team's depth did shine through as Vincent Desharnias and Stephen Ruggiero, the team's seventh and eight defensemen, played admirably in Saturday's game.
Boston College jumped the Fighting Irish with its sweep of Vermont and now possess a two-point cushion on first place. However, the Eagles face a much stiffer test for the final weekend of the regular season. Jerry York's squad faces a UMass Lowell team that is fighting for the coveted fourth spot in a home-and-home series starting Friday at Conte Forum.
Notre Dame fell from first to third and face Boston University for a pair in South Bend this weekend. The Irish will need just one point to secure a third place finish while the Terriers are fighting the River Hawks for the fourth spot and the bye that goes with it.
Besides sixth place Northeastern and 12th place Massachusetts, the bottom of the standings are equally influx. Just three points separated seventh from 11th. Four of those teams face off in key matchups this upcoming weekend. Merrimack hosts Vermont for a pair while UConn and UNH play a home-and-home.
Hockey East Standings
|4||Boston University||20||11-5-4||26||@ND (2)||3-5
Takeaways from the Weekend
- 'Trophy season' as Jerry York likes to call it is underway for Boston College. The Eagles went up to Burlington and took care of business. Leaving with four points has BC in position to win the Hockey East Regular Season Championship with at least two more points than Providence this weekend. While the Eagles don't have the depth that Notre Dame and Providence has, they sure have some legitimate firepower on the top lines and defensive pairings. Plus, it doesn't hurt to have the best post-season coach of this generation behind the bench and a stud goaltender.
- Providence proved that it is once again a championship contender. It was at home, but sweeping the Fighting Irish is no easy task. The Friars can win even when they play sub-par thanks to an outstanding goaltender in Nick Ellis. However, there are times when Providence looks just unbeatable. Take for instance the first period in the series opener against UMass Lowell or the second period in Saturday's series finale against the Irish.
- Despite leaving the Ocean State with zero points, the weekend should convince doubters that Notre Dame is for real. Jeff Jackson's team is very solid up the middle, led by Montreal prospect Jake Evans, who is one of the most under-appreciated players in the league. He has a good offensive skill set, but the little things he does are what truly makes him such a great player.
- With BU and UMass Lowell tied for that coveted fourth spot, it will be interesting to see which team can gain more points in the final weekend. Both teams face a stiff test, but Lowell has the advantage of playing one game at home while the Terriers hit the road for two.
- Northeastern is 12-1-2 since a one-point weekend against Boston College. However, it was that weekend that the Huskies finally showed signs of turning it around from a dreadful start. Improved goaltending is certainly a huge reason Jim Madigan's team finds itself in the position it does now, but the play of the top line has been terrific. Zach Aston-Reese is one of the best two-way forwards in the league and Nolan Stevens has emerged as a legit scoring threat while being centered by brother John Stevens. Adam Gaudette has had an underrated rookie season. Just imagine if Kevin Roy heats up. Who knows if Northeastern can do any damage against the upper echelon of the league, but it's been a remarkable turnaround and the future looks bright.
- Saturday's 3-2 loss at the hands of BU could have been a lot uglier if not for Danny Tirone making 27 saves on 30 shots in the first two periods. The abysmal performance from the UNH defense got the thinking cap on to just far the mighty has fallen. From 1996-97 to 2008-09, New Hampshire won 20 games or more in each season. Sitting at just 10 wins currently, the Wildcats will fail to reach the 20-win plateau for a second straight season and for the third time in seven years after that remarkable run during the heyday of the Dick Umile regime in Durham. It would have been unfathomable just a few years ago to think UNH could be this far down in the standings.
- For all the struggle of the midway part of the season, Merrimack controls its destiny to hosting a first round playoff series. If the Warriors sweep Vermont in a two-game series at Lawler Arena this weekend, Mark Dennehy's team will leap over UVM and possibly UNH. Sophomore Brett Seney, a New Jersey Devils prospect, had a goal and an assist each night. Just how valuable is he to Merrimack? The Warriors are 8-11-6 when he plays compared to 1-5-1 without him. MC is 7-7-4 when he scores a point as opposed to 2-9-3 when he's held scoreless.
- Despite the struggle in the win column, all reports from the weekend indicated that UConn played extremely hard and gave Northeastern quite the challenge. It will take time, but Mike Cavanaugh will build a winner. UConn's dynamic freshman duo of Max Letunov and Tage Thompson are fun to watch and Rob Nichols has the ability to stand on his head when he's healthy.
- When looking at the current standings, it's intriguing to think that it's possible for three first round playoff match-ups to be the same as the final weekend of the regular season. Maine is likely to finish 11th, thereby facing Northeastern once again. UVM-Merrimack and UConn-UNH could also be re-matches of the final weekend of the regular season.