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Hockey East Playoff Picture Unclear Going into Final Weekend

The Hockey East playoff picture is a mess. Here's what we do know going into the final weekend of regular season play in Hockey East.

Three programs - New Hampshire, Boston College and Maine - have earned spots in this year's Hockey East Tournament. Both UNH and BC have clinched home ice for the Hockey East quarterfinals, while Maine still has a bit of work to do. Providence, on the other hand, will be staying home. The rest of the field remains completely up in the air going into each program's final two games. How's that for parity in Hockey East this season?

Let's start with the Eagles whose road to the Hockey East playoffs is the easiest to explain.

BC currently trails New Hampshire by 3 points going into the final home-and-home series with, well, New Hampshire. If the Eagles sweep the Wildcats this weekend, they will capture the Hockey East regular season title and the #1 seed in the tournament. It will be the 9th Hockey East regular season title earned by the Eagles, but the first since the 2004-2005 season.

If BC fails to get the sweep, they are guaranteed the #2 seed in the Hockey East tournament. Similarly, New Hampshire can only finish 1 or 2 at this point.

Maine, currently in 3rd place, hosts Massachusetts for the final two games at Alfond Arena. While Maine can earn a max of 32 points this season, BC also currently has 32 points. In a worst case scenario where BC loses both games with UNH and Maine sweeps UMass, Maine can finish no higher than the #3 seed given BC's 2-0-1 head-to-head tiebreaker over the Black Bears. With a 3 seed the ceiling for Maine, the lowest they can fall is the 5 seed. Maine needs a single point this weekend to clinch the #3 and home ice in the Hockey East quarterfinals.

After the three teams already guaranteed spots in the Hockey East tournament, the rest of the tournament field is fairly complicated. In this group, there are 6 teams vying for the final 5 playoff spots. UMass Lowell and Boston University are the only two programs that can overtake Maine for the #3 seed, but they could also fall all the way out of the Hockey East Tournament. Similarly, Northeastern, Vermont and Merrimack can finish anywhere from the #4 seed to sitting home next weekend. If the season ended today, Massachusetts would join Providence as one of the two programs that wouldn't make the tournament field, while UMass (who travels to Orono this weekend) could climb all the way to the #6 seed.

Let's revisit my Hockey East Tournament predictions from last week:

#1 New Hampshire vs. #8 Massachusetts
#2 Boston College vs. #7 Merrimack
#3 Maine vs. #6 Northeastern
#4 Boston University vs. #5 UMass Lowell

While I remain confident that BC can earn 4 points against New Hampshire this weekend, I'll keep UNH penciled in as the #1 and BC as the 2 seed. I also think Maine will earn the 1 point necessary to clinch the 3 seed and earn home ice in the Quarterfinals.

Other than the top 3 seeds though, I think the remaining 5 seeds are much more fluid.

UMass Lowell and Merrimack have the easiest final weekends. UMass Lowell hosts Vermont (3 wins in their last 10 games) while Merrimack has a home-and-home with last place Providence. Assuming both Lowell and Merrimack take care of business this weekend, Lowell will be locked into the #4 seed while Merrimack - currently in the final playoff spot - could finish as high as the 5 seed.

BU curiously got swept by Vermont last weekend. That weekend sweep included a 7-3 loss that coach Jack Parker called an "embarrassing performance" from the Terriers. BU finishes the season with a home-and-home with Northeastern. I'll predict a split that gives both BU and Northeastern 26 points. Northeastern would have the tiebreaker over BU, but with a Merrimack sweep of PC, would fall one point below the Warriors.

This week, I'll tweak my tournament predictions just a bit, and go with:

#1 New Hampshire vs. #8 Massachusetts
#2 Boston College vs. #7 Boston University
#3 Maine vs. #6 Northeastern
#4 UMass Lowell vs. #5 Merrimack

Of course, Eagles fans can't be too happy with the possibility of playing BU for games 5, 6 and 7 this year. Regardless of how down the Terriers are this season, or how much they miss the injured Nick Bonino, all bets are off when BC and BU meet on the ice.

There is one final scenario that the Eagles should be rooting for, and that involves the Terriers missing out on the Hockey East Tournament entirely. This scenario includes BU getting swept by Northeastern, Merrimack taking 1 of 2 from Providence, and UMass earning 3 points at Maine. BU would finish in 9th place and miss the tournament completely.

A guy can dream, right?