Hockey East – The Backcheck 2/7

This is a weekly feature appearing on Thursdays that discusses the four teams in the chase for the last two playoff spots in Hockey East.

Massachusetts Minutemen

7th place, 15 points, 10 conference games remaining

The Minutemen are firing on all cylinders right now. They played their lone game this past weekend on Friday night in Amherst, where they dealt the struggling Boston University Terriers a 5-1 loss. Massachusetts has now won five of its past eight and has picked up six of its last eight possible points. Kevin Boyle played for the first time since 1/16 this weekend, getting the start over Steve Mastalerz, who had started the last four games. Boyle appears to have moved past the struggles that led to his benching, as he stopped 19 of 20 shots. If Boyle can play at the top of his game, as he was earlier this season, Massachusetts may run away with the 7th playoff spot.

Maine Black Bears

8th place, 13 points, 9 conference games remaining

Maine came into the weekend looking to prove that it has righted the ship after a sweep of Boston College at Chestnut Hill. The Black Bears were able to deliver, scoring three points on the weekend thanks to their first win of the season at Alfond Arena. On Friday, they tied the Providence Friars 2-2 after senior Black Bear Joey Diamond scored with three minutes left to tie it. On Sunday, Maine won in overtime against Lowell, 4-3, once again thanks to a Diamond goal. The senior put up his third and fourth multi-point games of the season this weekend, with a weekend total of four goals and an assist. He now has six goals in his last five games and may finally be finding his role in this revamped, youthful Maine attack. The Black Bears are 6-3-3 in their last 12 and 3-0-1 in their last four (against BC, Providence, and Lowell). Things are looking up in Orono, as the team is back in the driver’s seat for a playoff berth.

Vermont Catamount

9th, 12 points, 9 conference games remaining

Vermont came into the weekend clinging to the last playoff spot in Hockey East and desperate for points. The Catamounts tried to capitalize on the recent struggles of the Boston College Eagles, but BC ultimately came out on top 4-1. They have now won just one of their past seven games, five of those being at home. They’ve given up four or more goals in five of those seven and have dropped to ninth in the conference. Time’s running out for Vermont; the Catamounts’ remaining games come against two teams they’re competing with for the playoffs, in Maine and NU, and three of Hockey East’s best, in BC, bu, and UNH.

Northeastern Huskies

10th place, 11 points, 9 conference games remaining

Northeastern failed to put up any points this weekend, falling to UNH 3-1 at Matthews Arena. With the loss, along with Maine’s three-point weekend, the Huskies fell to last place in Hockey East. As troubling as that fact is, Northeastern fans could care less about it at the moment. Thanks to Kevin Roy’s hat trick and Chris Rawlings’ stellar play, the Huskies took down Boston University 3-2 in the Beanpot semifinal, propelling them into the final against BC. Regardless of next Monday’s result, though, this game could serve as a turning point. For most of January, the Huskies matched or even outplayed their opponent, but failed to come away with many points due largely to their inability to finish games.  More than anything else, they proved to themselves Monday night that they can finish tough games in high-pressure situations against strong opponents (even with bu’s recent struggles). Also of note: Chris Rawlings’ play was the strongest it has been all year, saving 32 of 34 shots. Rawlings, much like his team, has been defined by his inconsistencies. If he plays anything close to this level the rest of the way, though, he could carry NU to the postseason.

Elsewhere around Hockey East –

In the other Beanpot contest on Monday, BC put up a 4-1 win over the Harvard Crimson, earning a date with the Huskies in next Monday’s final. In conference play, the Merrimack Warriors made headlines, surging up through the standings with a four point weekend. On Friday, the Warriors knocked off the streaking Lowell River Hawks 1-0 and on Saturday, they beat UNH in Durham 4-1. Merrimack now sits in third place in Hockey East, one point up on bu and one point back of second place UNH. The Terriers now hold just a one point lead over Providence for the last home-ice slot and are just 1-4-1 in their last six games.

Next Up –

The Hockey East conference schedule has had a number of changes due to the incoming blizzard. Northeastern’s visit to Massachusetts was postponed to 2/19. BC’s home game versus Lowell and bu’s home contest against Merrimack on Friday night were both postponed to 2/26. UNH’s visit to Providence was moved to next Wednesday, 2/13, while the Minutemen’s matchup with Merrimack in North Andover was pushed to Sunday. Maine will still travel to Burlington on Saturday night to play Vermont and Providence will still visit UNH on Sunday. Then, of course, will be the Beanpot finale on Monday, as Harvard and bu will play a consolation game before NU and BC duke it out for the championship.