Hockey East – The Backcheck 3/7

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.

*Tie-breakers are based on head-to-head records. The second tie-breaker is most in-conference wins.*

Vermont Catamounts

7th, 8-12-5, 21 pts

Tie-Breaker: lose vs. UMass, win vs. Maine

Remaining Schedule: 2 vs. BC

The Catamounts had another solid weekend, capitalizing on an underperforming bu team and scoring a big pair of points at Agganis Arena. On Friday, they dropped a 3-1 contest as the Terriers’ Matt Nieto netted a hat trick. On Saturday, Vermont responded with a 5-2 win. Five different skaters scored for the Catamounts, as they won for the fifth time in their past nine games (5-3-1 in that time). This streak has solidified the team’s grip on a playoff spot; even if Vermont doesn’t get any help, it would need just two points next weekend against BC to clinch a Hockey East tournament berth (and the seventh seed).

Maine Black Bears

8th, 6-12-7, 19 pts

Tie-Breaker: lose vs. Vermont, lose vs. UMass

Remaining Schedule: 2 @ UNH

The Black Bears played their last two games at Alfond Arena this year over the weekend and took home a huge three points against Northeastern. On Friday, they killed off a five-minute power play to start the third period and then fought back from a 1-0 deficit to win 3-1. It was just their second win at Alfond all season. Saturday saw an exciting back-and-forth contest with six total power play goals. Ultimately, the game ended in a 4-4 tie. The Maine offense has really turned a corner as of late, posting 2.75 goals per game in its past 12 contests. This has helped them surge in front of a slumping UMass with two games to play. To get into the tournament, the Black Bears will only have to grab the same number of points as UMass this weekend.

Massachusetts Minutemen

9th, 8-15-2, 18 pts

Tie-Breaker: win vs. Vermont, Maine (most conf. wins, leads by 2)

Remaining Schedule: @ Merrimack, vs. Merrimack

Massachusetts let a point get away from them on Friday night. After taking the lead with about a minute to go in the third period, UMass surrendered the tying goal to UNH’s John Henrion with just four seconds remaining in the contest. The Minutemen came away with one point, as the game finished in a 2-2 tie. That’s all they got for the weekend; UNH beat them 4-0 the next night on the back of a John Henrion hat trick. The Minutemen now sit one point behind Maine for the last playoff spot, after being unable to capitalize on a UNH team that had won three of its prior ten games coming into the weekend. On top of that, they have only managed to capture five of their last 18 possible points. These missed opportunities will haunt UMass, as the team will need to get at least one point more than Maine this weekend to make the tournament (due to winning the tiebreaker with Maine).

Northeastern Huskies – Eliminated

10th place, 5-16-4, 14 points

Remaining Schedule: vs. bu, @ bu

As mentioned above, Northeastern managed to grab only one point this weekend in Orono. At this point, there is not much to be said about the Huskies that has not already been said. They had inconsistent and weak goaltending. They were unable to capitalize on their offensive opportunities. They were exhausted by their lack of depth and were unable to find consistency in all three phases of the game. Outside of three power play goals, the lone bright spot was the play of Bryan Mountain. After relieving Chris Rawlings on Saturday, Mountain shut out Maine for nearly forty minutes, saving all 34 shots he faced, including an incredible stick save in the waning moments of the third period in a tie game. It was the kind of performance Husky fans wish they had seen more of from either goalie this season.

Elsewhere around Hockey East –

BC and Providence split a home-and-home set, with both road teams winning. On Friday, BC beat Providence 3-2, but on Saturday, four third period goals led Providence to a 5-1 victory. Jon Gillies was stellar for the Friars and made an amazing, sprawling stick save that ended up being on Sportscenter’s Top 10. Meanwhile, UMass Lowell continued their hot streak with a sweep of Merrimack. Friday’s game saw a 4-0 score in Lowell, while Sunday saw a 3-1 game in North Andover. Lowell is now 16-2-1 since getting swept in a home-and-home with UNH to begin December. On the flip side, Merrimack is now 0-4-1 in its past five games.

The top of the standings is still a free-for-all with two games left. Lowell sits in first, leading by one point over UNH. Behind the Wildcats by one point are Providence and BC, tied for third. In fifth, four points back of Lowell, is bu. Merrimack is in sixth, at five points back of first.

Next Up –

The regular season comes to a close this weekend with some exciting matchups. The highlight of the slate is the Border War – Maine, fighting for its playoff life, will visit UNH, with the Wildcats looking for a first-place finish. The current first-place team, UMass-Lowell, will have its hands full with a home-and-home matchup against Providence. UMass, also fighting for its life, will play a home-and-home with Merrimack. Vermont hosts BC for two games and Northeastern will finish its season with a home-and-home matchup with bu.