Friday, March 5, 2010

ECAC Playoffs: The Final Four

Well. We told you Cornell would beat Colgate in two games. They did. We told you Clarkson would need three to knock off St. Lawrence. They did. We informed you that Harvard would have no problem taking care of Princeton in two games. That happened. We picked Quinnipiac to take down RPI in three games.

Come on, game three went to FIVE OVERTIMES. We're claiming victory, especially since our team won.

It's all single elimination from here on out. That gives us two games today to wrestle with.

#5 RPI at #1 Cornell
(Cornell won season series, 3-1 in Troy on 11/7, 2-1 in Ithaca on 2/19)

Cornell has a stingy defense. That's the good news for the Big Red. The bad news? The Engineers have some recent experience doing well against a stingy defense, and sport one of their own.

Big Red sophomore Amanda Mazzotta has 11 shutouts this season, including four in a row in early February, a streak that was broken by the Engineers' overtime assassin, Laura Gersten, in a game the Engineers were very much a part of in a weekend where they were hoping to lock up a home ice berth.

Cornell's got a couple of big advantages - they're at home, where they've lost only once in ECAC play (to St. Lawrence), and they fairly easily dispatched Colgate in 120 minutes of hockey, which is less than the amount of hockey the Engineers played in Game 3 alone just five days ago. Was that enough time to recover, both physically and emotionally?

The Big Red have an offense capable of scoring in bunches, but in the month of February, they were notably stymied, for the most part, by Quinnipiac and RPI. Hmm. They're at home and still in need of at least one more win (and probably two) to play in the NCAA tournament. A win over the Engineers would have more positive effect on Cornell's position in the Pairwise than their two wins over Colgate. There's a lot on the line for them in this one.

But we're going to throw caution to the wind on this one and maybe let our homerism lead us this time. RPI played a pair of hard fought games with the Big Red this season in which they were never out of contention. They were in both games, which is something a lot of teams couldn't claim this year.

The Engineers aren't sneaking up on anyone this year, especially not after three straight wins over Harvard and an awe-inspiring quarterfinal win. They won't be taken lightly. But you don't have to take RPI lightly to lose to them on any given occasion.

The RPI defense is where this game will turn. Either they're still spent and the floodgates will open, or they'll still be sharp and standing tall, and will make this a game similar to the three played last weekend. If it's the latter, the Engineers are going to be a "hard out" no matter who they're playing.

There's every reason to pick against them, but let's go with the "team of destiny" theme - and maybe a whole lot of wishful thinking - and take the underdog for a second consecutive appearance in the ECAC Championship.

Prediction: RPI 1, Cornell 0

#3 Harvard at #2 Clarkson
(Clarkson won season series, 2-1 in Boston on 11/6, 3-3 in Potsdam on 2/20)

RPI fans could be excused for thinking that Harvard might be struggling, but the truth is that the Crimson have been mostly beating up teams not called the Engineers since January. The only other team they've lost to since the middle of November? Quinnipiac, 1-0. Starting to notice a trend, yet?

Clarkson struggled mightily down the stretch to the tune of losing the league's top position that had basically been theirs since October. Their two victories over St. Lawrence were solid, convincing victories, but their offense failed to click in the loss on Saturday.

The Knights' win over Harvard came early on, when the Crimson weren't firing on all four yet and Clarkson was. Now the roles are somewhat reversed (although Clarkson certainly seems to be playing better than they were in the stretch). They improved to a tie just a couple of weeks ago the last time they were in Potsdam. Now it's crunch time. Harvard is in this position every year, Clarkson is treading new territory. The Crimson surely haven't forgotten about what happened last season in the semifinals.

Perhaps most importantly, the Harvard defense is a lot more solid than St. Lawrence's has been.

But who do you think they're pulling for in the game in Ithaca?

Prediction: Harvard 4, Clarkson 2

Hoo-boy. If we're perfect with our picks once again (and we were perfect. WE WERE. Come on, no one expects FIVE!), it's going to be all out war in Boston on Sunday.

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