These are the three things I think I learned.
1. Northeastern’s season ends next week.
When the Huskies managed only a single point in Orono, their season went from being on life support to a flat line.
With a sweep of BU, they can catch Massachusetts for ninth place if the Minutemen also get swept by Merrimack. (That will put the two teams in a tie with 18 points, but the Huskies take the tiebreaker having won the season series 2-1-0.)
But Northeastern can’t catch Maine or Vermont for one of the final two playoff berths. The season-long attrition that began with early departures to the pros and continued with transfers and suspensions, the latest of which was number-five scorer Garrett Vermeersch, resulted in a team that simply failed to match up.
2. Connor Hellebuyck (and the Massachusetts-Lowell team defense) is even better than I thought.
I knew the freshman goaltender was playing exceptionally well and posting some terrific statistics, but the reality is even more impressive.
It’s deceptive to take any goaltender’s worst game and say, “If you just remove that one game…” because any netminder looks a lot better when you give him a mulligan.
But it’s appropriate when that worst game is his collegiate debut, as is the case with Hellebuyck. (To continue the golf analogy, many hackers allow a “breakfast ball” on the tee of the first hole, but only the self-deluded allow it on random holes.)
Including his first game at Denver when he allowed five goals, Hellebuyck’s numbers are stunning: a 13-1-0 record, a 1.41 goals against average, and a .947 save percentage.
(Put it this way, you could look in the wrong column, see .929 and assume you’re looking at an excellent save percentage when instead, it’s a stunning winning percentage.)
(Put it another way, 25 percent of his entire season’s total of goals allowed came in those first 50-plus minutes.)
Without that shaky debut, Hellebuyck’s numbers become staggering: a 13-0-0 record, 1.13 GAA, and a .957 save percentage.
Any wonder why Lowell is in first place?
3. Providence’s fourth line is making a difference.
The Friars’s fourth line scored three — count ’em, three — goals in Saturday’s huge win at Boston College.
The previous Saturday, the fourth line scored first in a 3-2 win over Northeastern.
“This is back-to-back weekends that our fourth line was our best line on Saturday night,” Providence coach Nate Leaman said after the BC win. “So that’s a really good positive for us going forward.”
With Hockey East experiencing such a logjam at the top, every advantage becomes magnified so fourth lines like the Friars’ have and will make a significant difference in the Hockey East race and playoffs.