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 in the league, sits in fifth place in Hockey East with 24 points. Only the top four teams gets home ice.

The top of the league is a logjam. Boston University has 27 points, followed by 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.

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

Providence lost two close games in Orono back in October – 5-4 in overtime and 3-1 including an empty-netter.

The Friars looked strong early, including a weekend sweep of Merrimack in December, but they have gone 2-8-1 since. Providence can still put together a good game — like the 1-0 win over UMass-Lowell on Jan. 24 — but Maine will be favored tonight.

Saturday’s game did not look like much at the beginning of the season. 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 last 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 this Saturday, is that they love the Tsongas Arena, and have not lost their since October.

Maine may still be without forward Joey Diamond, who sat out last weekend with a sore hip. Diamond, who has 17 goals and 13 assists, practiced for the first time Wednesday, but with no contact. Whitehead said he is questionable.


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