How tight are the standings in Hockey East? Just 5 points separate the team in first place (Merrimack) from the team in sixth (UMass-Lowell).
It seemed appropriate given how close in ability fourth-ranked Boston College and No. 5 New Hampshire are that they would play to a 4-4 tie at Conte Forum Sunday afternoon.
The Eagles (17-8-3, 12-7-2) earned a point and sit in second place in the league, and the Wildcats (16-8-4, 11-7-3) are just a point back in third. The teams ended their season series deadlocked at 1-1-1.
BC coach Jerry York said as schools fight for playoff position, the picture isn’t likely to become clear in the next two weekends, but instead almost certainly will be decided in the final games of the regular season.
“Back to back [overtime games for us],’’ said York. “It just kind of shows you how close this league is. My initial thoughts were — and I think they’ll still be the same — this is probably going to go down to the final weekend in the season who wins [the league].
“It’s going to go right down to the wire. Right now there are at least six of us who have a really realistic chance of winning the championship.’’
Sunday’s outing was a seesaw battle. BC struck first on senior right wing Steven Whitney’s 19th goal of the season on a one-timer from the slot at 8:57 of the first. UNH answered at 19:01 during a power play when junior defenseman Eric Knodel beat senior netminder Parker Milner (29 saves) on a hard shot from just inside the red line.
The Wildcats took a 2-1 lead at the 34-second mark of the second when freshman left wing Dan Correale won a battle along the boards and banked a shot off BC defenseman Teddy Doherty and past Milner.
BC answered during a power play with freshman defenseman Michael Matheson potting his sixth on a shot from just outside the left post at 5:30.
Senior captain Pat Mullane gave the Eagles their second lead of the day on the man advantage. Junior defenseman Isaac MacLeod took a shot from the top of the left circle that was blocked. The puck squirted into the right circle and Mullane cashed in for his 14th of the season.
At 1:15 of the third, sophomore center Grayson Downing beat Milner on a wraparound at the right post to square things at 3 apiece.
Sophomore right wing Matt Willows put UNH on top for the second time at 4-3 on his second tally of the year at 7:54, but, just seven seconds later, BC pulled even on junior center Bill Arnold’s goal that beat sophomore goaltender Casey DeSmith (22 saves). And that’s the way it remained.
“They’ve got a good club, as does Merrimack [which beat BC in overtime Friday],’’ said York. “This time of the year, February, we’ve got to play our best hockey and we’re trying to achieve that goal.’’
For UNH, it was also a vital point with just six games remaining on the regular-season schedule.
“I thought it was a heck of a hockey game,’’ said Wildcats coach Dick Umile. “I told our team at the end there, I really like the way they played. They competed. I know we let in a couple on our penalty kill. We’ve been in a little bit of a funk here, but I think this game will hopefully propel us where we want to go.’’
UNH is in the midst of a four-game winless streak (0-2-2), but the way the Wildcats played BC shows signs that they are fighting their way out of it.
“I don’t know if we snapped out of it,’’ said Umile. “But I know what happened . . . guys took the puck, took shots, and got it to the net and good things happen when you do that.’’