With the last potentially-easy game of the season set to take place against Colgate on Saturday, the Engineers desperately needed to take two points from the weekend to maintain a good chance at capturing the final playoff spot. Instead, RPI saw a comeback bid fall short in a 3-2 loss in Hamilton, after shouldering a 3-0 loss at Cornell the night before.
The Big Red have had an easy go of it in the ECAC this season - not quite so easy as the Harvard squad that went 22-0 in league play a few seasons ago, but rather good nonetheless. Friday's game offered one more glimpse of what the Engineers would be lucky enough to face if they take the eighth spot in the standings, and the game went fairly predictably with Cornell picking up a 3-0 victory with all three goals coming in the second period.
After a first period which saw the teams trade several penalties, the game was broken open near the middle of the second period, when Cornell notched two quick goals just 1:18 apart. Brianne Jenner deflected a shot from the point by Lauriane Rougeau at 8:31, then Chelsea Karpenko scored at 9:49 on a 2-on-1 break which developed after Catherine White blocked an RPI shot at the other end of the ice.
White would be responsible for Cornell's third goal, deflecting a long shot past RPI netminder Kelly O'Brien at 17:28 of the middle frame.
RPI managed just two shots on goal in the final period, despite three power plays, as Cornell locked down defensively and closed out the game for a 3-0 final. Total shots on goal were 37-12 in Cornell's favor, similar to many of the games they have played this year.
While Cornell's season has shown they are not invincible, they remain the clear frontrunner to win the ECAC regular season (and tournament), with a five point lead over Harvard with four games to go, including a pair against Brown and Yale. It remains to be seen how the Big Red will do on a national level, where they have stood in the top three in the polls for most of the season.
Right on the Engineers' heels in the standings and fighting hard for that privelege of playing Cornell in the playoffs, Colgate entered Saturday's game with just as much to play for as RPI, and made the most out of the game, skating to a 3-2 victory after RPI's comback bid fell short. Coupled with a victory over Union on Friday, the Raiders picked up four points on the Engineers and now stand just a point behind - while getting to play Yale and Brown next weekend while RPI hosts much tougher teams in Harvard and Dartmouth.
The scoring on Saturday was all contained in the third period, with a first period that saw the teams with only four shots each, and a second which saw the visiting Engineers outshoot their hosts 10-5, with several power play chances thrown into the mix.
Things certainly got more interesting in a hurry in the early third period, with Colgate's Rachel Walsh opening the scoring at 2:10 before Taylor Horton tied the game just 48 seconds later. The tie would not last as Colgate regained the lead another 40 seconds after Horton's goal, with Melissa Keuber picking up her 11th goal of the season.
Keuber would go on to notch her 12th goal on the power play at 14:53, which put the Raiders up 3-1 and proved to be the eventual game-winner. Horton scored again with the net empty to draw to within 3-2, but Colgate's Kimberly Sass held the Engineers off for the final 41 seconds to help her team to victory.
RPI now plays host to Harvard and Dartmouth before traveling to Princeton and Quinnipiac to end the regular season. Making the playoffs is no longer a simple proposal for the Engineers, who are tied with Brown (but the Bears hold the tiebreaker over RPI and may see the difference come from a remaining game against Colgate while each of RPI's games are against teams ahead of them in the standings). The statistics are not in RPI's favor, as their best chance of picking up points comes against Princeton - a 23% chance of winning that game based on the numbers.
More importantly, a single win may not be enough to seal the deal; if Brown defeats Colgate, or Colgate can sweep Yale and Brown, the Engineers would need a second upset against Harvard, Dartmouth, or Quinnipiac or they will be on the outside looking in two weeks from now.
RPI at Cornell
ECAC Hockey Game – Lynah Rink (Ithaca, NY)
2/3/12 – 7:00pm
Cornell 3, RPI 0
College Hockey Stats: http://collegehockeystats.net/1112/boxes/wcorren1.f03
RECORD: 8-17-4 (5-10-2 ECAC)
RPI at Colgate
ECAC Hockey Game – Starr Rink (Hamilton, NY)
2/3/12 – 4:00pm
Colgate 3, RPI 2
College Hockey Stats: http://collegehockeystats.net/1112/boxes/wclgren1.f04
RECORD: 8-18-4 (5-11-2 ECAC)
ECAC Standings (all teams have played 18 games)
Pts Conf All-----
Cornell 32 16-2 21-3
Harvard 27 13-4-1 16-7-1
Clarkson 26 12-4-2 18-7-5
Dartmouth 24 11-5-2 15-7-2
St. Lawrence 24 11-5-2 17-8-4
Quinnipiac 22 10-6-2 15-12-2
Princeton 18 8-8-2 10-11-4
Brown 12 4-10-4 7-11-7
Rensselaer 12 5-11-2 8-18-4
Colgate 11 5-12-1 10-18-1
Union 6 2-14-2 4-22-4
Yale 2 1-17 1-24
Feb. 10 - Harvard (7pm)
Feb. 11 - Dartmouth (Senior Night) (4pm)
Feb. 17 - at Princeton (7pm)
Feb. 18 - at Quinnipiac (4pm)
Feb. 24-26 - ECAC Playoff Quarterfinals (if RPI qualifies)