The final week of the regular season is upon us. And if the Huskies don’t come to play this weekend, then they will find themselves headed home for the summer. Northeastern currently finds themselves tied with UMass for the final playoff spot. Both teams are 8-13-4. With UMass owning the tiebreaker, the Huskies path is pretty clear: pick up more points this weekend then UMass does.
Both teams have a home and home this weekend. NU has BU, with the first game on the road. UMass has Merrimack, with the first game at home. BU trails 1st place BC by 2 points. The Eagles play last place Vermont this weekend, so they have Hockey East all but won. A win for them on Friday will make it official. So no matter what their result is on Friday, BU will likely find themselves out of the title race by Saturday. It is unlikely that BU would start their backup goalie (he played last Friday) or start a weaker lineup, because Lowell only trails them by two points. But it remains a possibility that they go into the final game with nothing to play for.
Merrimack, on the other hand, will have everything to play for this weekend. They trail Maine by 1 for the final home ice spot. Maine is off Friday so even the Warriors lose they will still have a chance to overtake Maine on Saturday. And if they win on Friday, they will still probably need another win to stay ahead of Maine, who plays UNH on Saturday.
For Northeastern, they have been in this situation before. 2 years ago, they entered the final weekend of the season with a home and home against BU. There playoff spot was virtually clinched. They just need 1 point or some help from Maine. They got neither. Maine’s starting goaltender was suspended for drinking and UMass pulled off an unbelievable sweep in Orono. That combined with Vermont pick up a tie on the final night kept Northeastern out of the playoffs. Last year, the Huskies split the season ending series, then beat BU 2 out of 3 at Agganis to knock them out of the playoffs. Winning that series will hopefully be the beginning of better times for them at Agganis and against BU. In their only meeting this season, NU blew a 2 goal at home, on NESN and ultimately lost 4-3.
For UMass, the opponent may be different, but the situation is the same. This is the third year in a row that UMass has gone into the final weekend trying to secure a playoff spot. Last season, PC made a late charge to take the 8th spot from the Minuteman and the Friars pulled off an upset in the final game to make things interesting. But UMass would hold on for a tie against Maine that sent them through. This year, they end with Merrimack, who they last beat on 12/12/09. For the last time they beat Merrimack at Lawler, you have to go all the way back to 3/8/08.
So the Huskies have their work cut off for themselves. It all comes down to get more points than UMass. The one exception to this would be if UMass ties both games and NU wins one. In that case, Northeastern would advance through the second tiebreaker, conference wins. There is no way the Huskies can lock up a spot on Friday, but they can easily be mathematically eliminated. A UMass win and Northeastern loss on Friday will eliminate the Huskies. But a Northeastern win and UMass lose on Friday will not eliminate the Minuteman.
And for you eternal optimists out there, if NU can take 3 points from BU, and Lowell sweeps PC (as they should), then the Huskies would sneak into 7 seed and play Lowell in the first round. Unless UMass gets 3 or more points as well. In that case, the Huskies would play BC as the 8 seed.