Who: Notre Dame (15-9-4) at Maine (10-15-3)
When: 7:05 p.m. tonight; 7:05 p.m. Saturday
Where: Cross Insurance Arena; Portland, Maine (Friday)
Radio: 94.3 FM (WZOC)
Momentum is no easy thing to sustain at this point in the Hockey East season.
Sometimes it evaporates and reemerges in the course of a game or even a period. Last Friday, Notre Dame went up two goals then down two before rallying on Vermont to secure a 4-4 tie. The very next night the Irish went down a goal early before winning 4-1.
Sounds like the type of results that could bode well for a trip to Maine this weekend. But the idea of carrying those good vibes over is easier in theory than practice.
“I think we saw what we did well in those games,” center Jake Evans said. “We saw what kind of team we can be in a lot of moments in those games. We’ve also gotta realize it’s basically do or die right now. They’re basically must-win games from here if we wanna do well in the standings.”
Notre Dame (15-9-4, 8-5-3 Hockey East) needs to channel those performances if it wants to snag valuable points at Maine. There’s no wiggle room for dropped points in the league standings.
Boston College is in first with 27 points out of 17 games. Boston University is three points back, also out of 17 games.
Everything from third place, where Providence sits alone on 20 points, on down is murky.
UMass-Lowell enters the weekend in a tie with the Irish for fourth place on 19 points. Notre Dame has played one less league game. Five teams farther down the standings are within six points of fourth place.
Staying in the top four — meaning a bye in the first round of the league tournament before hosting a quarterfinal series — basically requires not coming up empty in any of the three remaining series.
“They know the importance of every game at this point,” head coach Jeff Jackson said. “It’s almost playoff hockey right now for where we wanna finish in the league. I think our guys have a pretty good grasp of how tight it is in the league. One or two points could make the difference between four spots in the rankings. Every point matters. We’ve gotta go there with the objective to get points in every game.”
Jackson needs more quality wins for NCAA tournament purposes as well. Notre Dame visits Maine at No. 21 in the PairWise standings, which helps determine the postseason field. Only the top 16 teams make it.
The easiest remedy for that position is more wins. Irish players are well aware.
“It mainly comes about just naturally,” Evans said. “Some guys chat. We know when there’s big games. Every game is big but we know when we play BC and Vermont, we know how big those games are. These games coming up this weekend, these are must in. Guys don’t really talk about it but we really know.”
Wegwerth, Nardella remain out
Winger Joe Wegwerth and defenseman Bobby Nardella remain sidelined with lower body injuries. Nardella has already been out a few weeks.
Wegwerth went down in the first period of last Friday’s game against Vermont.
“He’s doing OK right now,” Jackson said. “It’s gonna be week-to-week, day-to-day. It’s week-to-week right now. Probably two or three weeks for sure in my mind. There’s always a chance it could accelerate. Nardella was projected to be six weeks and now he’s getting close. Sometimes it’s faster than we think but we don’t take any risks at this point in the season because we want them at the end of the year.”