The goal is clear over the next four weekends for the University of Maine men’s hockey team.

Keep winning and claim home ice in the first round of the Hockey East playoffs.

“Just want to keep the train rolling,” Black Bears Coach Tim Whitehead said.

Maine (16-8-3, 11-7-2 Hockey East), is fifth in the conference with 24 points. The top four teams get home ice.

At the top — Boston University 27 points, UMass-Lowell (26), and Merrimack and Boston College (both with 25).

The Black Bears are 13-2-1 in their last 16 games, with seven league games left.

Maine is at sixth-place Providence (10-14-2, 8-10-1) tonight and then a biggie at UMass-Lowell (18-7-0, 13-6-0) on Saturday.

Providence lost two close games in Orono in October, 5-4 in overtime and 3-1, which included an empty-netter.

The Friars looked strong early, including a weekend sweep of Merrimack in December, but have gone 2-8-1 since.

Providence can still put together a good game — such as the 1-0 win over UMass-Lowell on Jan. 24 — but Maine will be favored tonight.

UMass-Lowell was terrible last year (5-25-4) and returning goalie Doug Carr was underwhelming (.896 save percentage, 3.63 goals-against average).

So when the River Hawks swept Maine in Orono in November, it was shocking.

But UMass-Lowell, under first-year coach Norm Bazin, has not slowed down, possessing the best winning percentage in Division I, while tied for second in the national Pairwise rankings.

How have the River Hawks done it?

“I’m partial to the coach (Bazin), since he used to be one of my assistants,” Whitehead said. “He has really re-energized the team.

“And their goalie, Doug Carr, is one of the most improved players in the league.”

Carr leads Hockey East with a .932 save percentage and a 1.88 goals-against average.

Carr anchors the defense, while the offense is tied with Maine for the best in Hockey East at 3.56 goal a game.

And what may make the River Hawks tougher on Saturday is that they have not lost at Tsongas Arena since October.

Maine may still be without forward Joey Diamond, who sat out last weekend with a sore hip.

Diamond, with 17 goals and 13 assists, practiced for the first time Wednesday, but with no contact. Whitehead said he is questionable.

IN OTHER GAMES this weekend, Merrimack is at UMass-Lowell tonight, and then home to New Hampshire Saturday.

Also tonight, Boston College is at Vermont, and Boston University hosts Massachusetts.

BU and BC are off Saturday as they prepare for their Beanpot championship game Monday night.

Staff Writer Kevin Thomas can be contacted at 791-6411 or at:

[email protected]

Twitter: KevinThomasPPH


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