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UNH hockey: Looking at the Wildcats’ position after split

It’s hard to pinpoint what the emotions should be for the University of New Hampshire hockey team after taking a win and a loss in the always anticipated series with Maine this weekend.

After all, UNH (14-13-1, 6-6-0) did score one of its most impressive victories of the year, acing its first test without star defenseman Trevor van Riemsdyk by pulling together, weathering an early Maine attack and striking late in a hard-fought 3-2 win over the Black Bears.

The progress made in that win took a hit the next night, however, as UNH took a 2-1 lead into the third period in Orono before allowing Maine to score three goals and salvage a pair of points with a 4-2 win.

So, as is often the case with splits, the takeaways are ambiguous. On one hand, it feels like a short-handed Wildcats team made an impressive stand in getting two points. On the other hand, the realization that UNH was a period away from a big four-point weekend is a stinging one.

The overall question is how this affects the playoff picture, and the truth is that both reactions balance out. UNH did what it was “supposed to” by holding serve at the Whittemore Center, and didn’t slide from its sixth-place spot in Hockey East, the highest place in the standings that would still result in having to play the dreaded one-game playoff that opens the conference postseason.

In terms of the PairWise rankings, which project a team’s likelihood of cracking the 16-team national tournament, the Wildcats took a bigger hit. UNH entered the weekend in the 17th spot in the rankings, continuing the trend of being on the outside looking in, but even with Friday’s win, the Wildcats dropped to a tie for 22nd, leaving them a sizeable amount of teams to leap frog in the closing weeks.

With a slate of only Hockey East teams remaining, there’s still room for the dust to settle in the conference race, but in the national picture, UNH’s upcoming home series with No. 15 Notre Dame looms large. Only one of UNH’s three opponents after this series (No. 17 Vermont, Boston University and Merrimack) is ranked, so the chances for the Wildcats to score impressive victories are running out. Splits might not be enough from here on out.

(Drew Bonifant can be reached at 369-3340 or at abonifant@cmonitor.com or via Twitter @dbonifant.)

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