Friday, March 16, 2012

ECAC Semifinal Capsules

It's Atlantic City time, so it's also time for our last bunch of capsules. Since the turnaround for tomorrow's games is practically nil, we won't be doing a capsule for the title game. Enjoy... if you are planning to be in AC or watching on the internet.

For the fourth time in ten years, all of the bye teams reached the semifinals, which should make for some very fun hockey. There are no easy wins anymore, even if that was even true last weekend as well.

#4 Colgate vs. #1 Union

* Dutchmen swept season series: won 3-1 in Schenectady on Feb. 3, won 5-3 in Hamilton on Feb. 25
* Last playoff meeting: 2011 Quarterfinals: Colgate 2, Union 1 (Best-of-three, Schenectady, NY)
Last year's surprise upset of the quarterfinal round is this year's possible March redemption story of the year, but first they've got to get through the team that they embarrassed last season by becoming the first #12 seed to defeat a #1 seed in a best-of-three series in ECAC history.

The Raiders bounced back well from a rough February in which they dropped their last four games (including a home game against Union on the final day of the season) and backed into the final first-round bye position thanks to a tiebreaker against Quinnipiac. Colgate did well in defeating the Bobcats in the quarterfinals, including a 4-0 Game 3 shutout that was the Raiders' first since mid-November, a solid pick-me-up for a defense that was desperate for one after giving up two or more goals in 11 straight and 18 of 19 in a row.

Union, on the other hand, relied on its defense and the exploitation of the opposition's mistakes to sweep RPI in a somewhat uninspiring fashion. They got the job done, but often times were hanging on for dear life against a game underdog. Unlike last year when the Dutchmen blew a Game 1 victory to drop two in a row, they hung on to close out the series despite the difficulties that often plagued them. In the end, they don't ask how, they only ask how many, and Union did what they had to do to survive and advance, which is sometimes the name of the game.

Fortunately for the Dutchmen, getting up for this one shouldn't be too much of an issue, given what the Raiders accomplished last season. Still, for as good a season Colgate had going for much of the year, they proved themselves to be a hard team to sweep, as they took points from literally every other ECAC team this season. If Union plays the way they did against RPI, Colgate has the offensive firepower to put the hurt on the Dutchmen.

NCAA outlook
Union: Will be playing next weekend regardless of what happens, but losses this weekend will likely drop their stock. Would need help to reach a #1 seed even with a title.
Colgate: Won't make the tournament without two wins this weekend.

#3 Harvard vs. #2 Cornell
* Big Red won season series 3-1: won 4-2 in Boston on Nov. 11, tied 2-2 in Ithaca on Jan. 21
* Last playoff meeting:  2010 Quarterfinals: Cornell 2, Harvard 0 (Best-of-three, Ithaca, NY)

The classic Ivy matchup is rekindled again in New Jersey as the two squads with the most Ivy League crowns meet at the neutral-site final round of the tournament for the fifth time in ten seasons. These teams never need a reason to get up for one another, and the lure of the NCAA tournament will be plenty in this contest.

The Crimson looked vulnerable in the first two games against Yale last weekend, falling in overtime in Game 1 before requiring two overtimes the next night to save their season - essentially playing the same kind of on-the-edge game they'd played all year. The eye-opener was on Sunday night as Harvard, after falling behind 1-0 early, scored six straight goals on their way to their gaudiest goal haul of the season by netting eight against three different goaltenders to secure their trip to New Jersey.

The Big Red had a slightly easier go of things but still largely had their hands full with a very game Dartmouth squad. The Big Green just wouldn't go away in Game 1, which required two overtimes to complete. Then, after waiting for their women's team to complete a 3-OT game against BU and starting 45 minutes late, Cornell jumped on Dartmouth for three goals on seven shots in 8:21 to take control and never look back.

Harvard's penchant for being "in" basically all of their games makes them very difficult to predict, and Cornell, as we've seen, can often get themselves into slugfests as well. The neutral ice makes things even more interesting, and neither of these teams should probably be considered a true underdog. Cornell gets the basic edge with the last change, but given that both of these teams are going to be seriously behind the eight-ball for the NCAAs with a loss, this should be fun to watch.

NCAA outlook
Cornell: They're in right now, but they're on the bubble and a loss to Harvard would be devastating.
Harvard: Can join the at-large area of the PWR with two wins, but that would put them in the tournament anyway. Probably doesn't reach next week without the title.

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