Hockey East coaches have spoken of parity in the league for years. This season is no different as evidenced by the shocking results of this past weekend. Last place Maine went into Chestnut Hill and swept first place Boston College.
Boston University bench boss Jack Parker commented on the parity after his team's 3-3 tie with Providence Saturday night. "The league keeps tightening up. It's unbelievable. Everyone can win in this league."
One of the tight races appears to be the push for the final home ice spot in the league playoffs. Providence is currently in fourth, one point ahead of Merrimack and UMass-Lowell. The three teams have the first, third and fourth toughest schedules remaining in terms of opponent's winning percentage. Lowell visits Merrimack Friday night in a game that will be broadcast by NESN.
The bottom of the league standings became even tighter following Maine's sweep of BC. Seventh place UMass-Amherst is just three points ahead of last place Maine. Out of the bottom four teams, Vermont has easily the toughest schedule with seven of their remaining ten games against Boston College, New Hampshire and Boston University.
The top three teams have been struggling lately even with BU's three point weekend against Providence. Out of the three, the Terriers have the best league record since the break at 2-2-1. UNH is 2-3 in league action since Christmas while BC is 2-4 in that same period.
Boston College looked to be well on their way to another remarkable season until the end of December. Injuries and a lack of depth have caught up to the Eagles. BC has the toughest remaining schedule of the top three teams. Johnny Gaudreau had better put this team on his back if BC doesn't want to slip out of the top spot in the standings.
Boston University has the easiest road out to finish the season. The Terriers got back on track this weekend and will again have the services of Evan Rodrigues and Garrett Noonan when they take the ice this weekend. BU has two games against each of the three bottom teams in the league standings.
New Hampshire recovered from a two-game skid with a 6-2 victory over Merrimack Saturday night. As long as UNH can stay close, they have a relatively easy final six games. The Wildcats finish the season with two at Vermont before hosting UMass-Amherst and Maine for two each.
Providence has the fourth most difficult remaining schedule in terms of opponents' winning percentage, just in back of Merrimack, Vermont and Lowell. The Friars can survive the stretch with the key cog in its corner of freshman goaltender Jon Gillies. However, it still seems difficult to imagine them not being passed by Lowell.
UMass-Lowell kept their unbeaten streak alive, now at 11 games following a tie and win over Northeastern. As well as UML is playing, it would seem to be the safest bet that they will finish with a home ice spot. One issue is the woes of Doug Carr this season. Freshman goaltender Connor Hellebuyck has been the better option between the pipes, but missed the last three games due to an injury.
Merrimack picked up a big victory Friday night against New Hampshire, but have the most difficult schedule remaining of any team in the league. The Warriors will need to find more offensive consistency. Three games against UMass-Lowell and three against UMass-Amherst could be a deciding factor in where the Warriors will finish in the final standings.
UMass-Amherst has arguably the easiest schedule of the bottom four teams, but still has consistency issues that could keep them from pushing further up into the standings.
Vermont has solo contests at Boston College and hosting Maine in the next two weekends before a big two-game set at Northeastern the third weekend of February. With the two teams separated by just a point, it could be a deciding series. After that, the Catamounts finish the season with two games each against UNH, BU and BC.
Northeastern has two games at home against UVM and two at Maine, both series being crucial in their push for a playoff bid. If the Huskies goaltending situation doesn't improve, Jim Madigan's team will be missing the playoffs for a second straight season.
Maine has four out of the next five and six of the next nine at home, a venue where they are still winless this season. One has to assume that streak is bound to end sooner than later. A key stretch for the Black Bears will be the two games at UMass-Amherst followed by two home games hosting Northeastern.