Even though Merrimack, Maine and Boston University were the three teams to sweep series this past weekend, I’m going to argue that the big winners were Merrimack and New Hampshire and not the Black Bears or the Terriers.
It all has to do with Northeastern stunning number-one-ranked Boston College by taking three of four points in their home-and-home series. (And without head coach Greg Cronin, I might add.) In terms of impressive achievements, the Huskies won that category hands down over everyone in Hockey East if not the country.
But we’re only two weeks away from the end of the regular season so the standings mean everything and based on the standings New Hampshire was the biggest winner with Merrimack number two.
New Hampshire took three-of-four points in its series with Vermont but with Northeastern’s help is now firmly in the driver’s seat for the regular season title. The Wildcats hold a two-point lead over BC and also hold the tiebreaker based on beating the Eagles 2-1 way back on Nov. 5.
New Hampshire still needs to match BC’s results this weekend and then at least split their home-and-home series the final weekend, but there’s a cushion that wasn’t there a week ago.
[Note: I earlier incorrectly stated that UNH would need only one-of-four points head-to-head to take the title over BC, but that was incorrect. Only a single point would mean BC had wiped out the tiebreaker lead and would then have more wins than the Wildcats. Thanks to a poster for pointing out this brain cramp.]
Unless, that is, Merrimack races past both of them for the title. (Remember that Merrimack holds the season tiebreaker over every team mathematically in contention: UNH, BC and BU.)
Don’t look now but the Warriors are now in second place (tied with BC but holding the tiebreaker) only two points back. Which is why they were the second big winners on the weekend thanks to the Huskies. Merrimack had a really tough time with Massachusetts, needing overtime at the Mullins Center before winning 2-1 back at home, and now must travel to Maine for two.
But second place and two points out of first!
Okay, it’s now time to give Maine and BU their due. The Black Bears shut out Massachusetts-Lowell on the weekend, 4-0 and 3-0, and that was on the road too. I’ve been critical of Maine’s goaltending but Dan Sullivan returned and stopped all 49 shots on the weekend.
Perhaps the death of the Black Bears has been greatly exaggerated.
BU wasn’t quite as decisive in sweeping Providence, 2-1 and 1-0, but played a dominant first 30 minutes against the Friars on Friday and got the much-needed two wins.
Hats off to Northeastern for taking three of four points from the Eagles. Cronin’s suspension casts a cloud over the immediate future for the Huskies, but following up their riveting Beanpot performance in defeat with a 7-7 tie and a 2-1 win deserves a standing O.
Vermont picked up a huge point against UNH. The Catamounts got shellacked, 6-1, on Friday night but came back with an impressive 2-2 tie one night later. That widens the gap between them and Providence for the final playoff berth to three points. And since they hold the tiebreaker, it acts like a four-point lead.
The big losers in addition to BC, then, were the three teams that got swept. UMass and Providence went down swinging as already noted, losing both nights by a single goal. The overtime loss for the Minutemen was particularly excruciating since they’d just taken the lead late in the third period and held it with a minute and a half to go in regulation. That had to hurt.
As did Lowell’s blanking at the hands of Maine, its perennial matchup nightmare. With that disappointing outcome, the River Hawks were mathematically eliminated from the playoffs. Turn out the lights, the party’s over.