Hard to believe the regular season is winding down, yet here we are in the middle of February and conferences have either three or four weekends remaining until the postseason begins. As the sands of time continue to slip through the regular-season hourglass, each game comes with a greater sense of urgency. Here are our picks for the best action this weekend.
Maine at Boston University FRIDAY AND SATURDAY
Maine's home sweep over rival New Hampshire last weekend gave the Black Bears a tidy little four-game unbeaten streak (3-0-1) heading into the third consecutive weekend of difficult games. A win and tie at Vermont started the run that culminates with this weekend's visit to Agganis Arena. After that, Maine closes with series against UMass Lowell (home), Merrimack (away) and Northeastern (home). This weekend's series could be the games that truly decide whether Maine is positioned to make a run at the regular-season title or simply playing for a home-ice spot in the opening round of the playoffs. The Black Bears have been one of the nation's best teams since Thanksgiving, with a 10-2-2 record in that stretch. Both losses came on one bad weekend at Boston College and Providence while Maine was without starting goaltender Scott Darling and defenseman Robby Dee.
BU has won five of its last six Hockey East games and put itself in position to chase down fourth place. The Terriers are currently fifth, four points behind UMass with one game in hand. The Terriers' stretch run is a little more difficult than that of Maine -- BU has a home-and-home with Providence, two games at Vermont and a home-and-home with Northeastern remaining on the docket. Nick Bonino has a goal and 11 assists in his current seven-game point streak. BU is 5-2-0 in those games.
North Dakota at St. Cloud State FRIDAY AND SATURDAY
Three months ago in Grand Forks, Fighting Sioux defenseman Chay Genoway was checked from behind by St. Cloud State forward Aaron Marvin. Genoway, an INCH preseason All-American, hasn't played since and, as Brad Elliott Schlossman of the Grand Forks Herald noted in Thursday's edition, North Dakota hasn't been the same since.
The Sioux insist winning a pair of games against the Huskies is the best retribution. That'll be a tall order against a St. Cloud State team that has gone 13-2-2 since a Nov. 28 win at Denver and has scored 52 goals in 12 games -- that's an average of 4.3 goals per game -- since Jan. 1.
Yale at Cornell SATURDAY
These Ivy League teams enter the weekend in a three-way tie for first place in ECAC Hockey and the winner of this one can get some separation over another title contender at the top of the standings.
The Bulldogs have won four straight meetings between these teams, including a 4-2 win in New Haven back in November and a 5-0 win in last year's ECAC Hockey championship game in Albany. Broc Little and Sean Backman had four points each last weekend in Yale wins over Dartmouth and Harvard last weekend.
Cornell probably played better in Saturday's loss at Princeton than they did in Friday's win at Quinnipiac, and the split dropped the Big Red back into the first-place stalemate. They're expected to get a boost in the lineup as Riley Nash will likely return to the ice after missing Cornell's last four games.
Minnesota at Denver FRIDAY AND SATURDAY
The big question surrounding this series isn't whether the Gophers can win a game at Magness Arnea, but rather can they score a goal against the Pioneers. DU and goaltender Marc Cheverie have blanked Minnesota in three straight wins. In fact, the Pios have owned the Gophs as of late -- DU is 7-1-1 in its last nine against Minnesota, and the Gophers have managed more than one goal in just one of those games.
Minnesota forward Jacob Cepis comes into the weekend on a nine-game scoring streak and wing Mike Hoeffel is expected to return to the lineup after missing time recovering from mononucleosis. So the new isn't all bad for the Gophers… just mostly bad.
Also: Miami can claim the CCHA regular-season title with either one win at Bowling Green or a Ferris State loss at Lake Superior State. No word on how many points in the league standings the RedHawks get for a championship-clinching victory. … Boston College and UMass Lowell play a home-and-home series. The RiverHawks started the season with an 8-2-1 record but are 6-10-1 since. UML did beat BC last month, however. The Eagles have won four in a row and have outscored their foes by a 22-6 margin during that span. … The smaller the number of the national ranking of its opponent, the better Robert Morris plays. The Colonials have eight wins this season but four of them -- Quinnipiac on Oct. 31, Miami on Jan. 8 and 10, and Bemidji State on Jan. 30 -- have come against teams that have enjoyed a top-10 ranking at one point this season. BobMo hosts the Beavers this weekend.
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