Friday, March 8, 2013

ECAC First Round Capsules

What an odd place we find ourselves in. Here we are, the first weekend of the ECAC Playoffs, and... nothing to do... in a manner of speaking, of course. For the first time since the playoffs expanded to 12 teams in 2003 (yeah, it's been that long), the Engineers earned themselves a free pass through the first round of the playoffs, which they've been a part of each of the last 10 straight seasons, the only team that could make that claim (along with Quinnipiac this year, they are the last to earn a bye). Problem is, the Engineers are 2-8 in quarterfinal games in that stretch, and haven't advanced to the semis since the expansion.

But we'll worry about that next week. Here are the first round matchups that get underway tonight.

#12 Harvard at #5 Dartmouth
Thompson Arena (Hanover, NH)
Last playoff meeting: 2011 ECAC Quarterfinals (at Dartmouth) - Big Green won 2 games to 1
Jan. 12: Dartmouth 3, Harvard 2 (Hanover)
Feb. 10: Dartmouth 1, Harvard 1 (Boston)
(Dartmouth wins season series, 3-1)

Dartmouth since February 1: 2-4-3
Dartmouth leading scorer: Tyler Sikura, sophomore. 10 goals, 18 assists.
Dartmouth starting goaltender: Charles Grant, freshman. 2.72 GAA, .912 save percentage.

Harvard since February 1: 4-4-2
Harvard leading scorer: Alex Fallstrom, senior. 8 goals, 11 assists.
Harvard starting goaltender: Raphael Girard, junior. 2.98 GAA, .913 save percentage.

Believe it or not, one of the hotter teams down the stretch in the ECAC was the team that ended up finishing in last place. After the Beanpot, which included yet another opening round loss and another big win over Boston University, the Crimson turned things around well, just not well enough to climb out of the basement. Still, Harvard is talented enough to be able to put together some solid results, as they showed at the beginning of the season.

That isn't great news for a Dartmouth team who was probably hoping the Crimson could have held on for the tie last Saturday against Princeton, a result that would have left a sputtering Colgate team in last place instead. The Big Green, after an exceptionally promising start, began struggling once 2013 started. Still, they were only swept once (in the first weekend of January), and remain tough to beat most nights. There's been some flux in net for Dartmouth, but they seem to have settled on Grant most nights.

Score-wise, it has been very simple for Dartmouth since December: score three goals, win the game. Give up three, lose the game (with one exception). That's pretty common anyway, but the Big Green have held that almost to a T through the last three months. They'll need to be sharp on both sides of the ice for a Harvard team that will be eager and ready to leave the results of the regular season behind and start anew in the playoffs with their late-season momentum.

#11 Colgate at #6 St. Lawrence
Appleton Arena (Canton, NY)
Last playoff meeting: 2010 ECAC Quarterfinals (at Colgate) - Saints won 2 games to 0
Nov. 30: St. Lawrence 4, Colgate 2 (Hamilton)
Feb. 2: St. Lawrence 3, Colgate 3 (Canton)
(St. Lawrence wins season series, 3-1)

St. Lawrence since February 1: 5-4-1
St. Lawrence leading scorer: Greg Carey, junior. 26 goals, 22 assists.
St. Lawrence starting goaltender: Matt Weninger, junior. 2.79 GAA, .914 save percentage.

Colgate since February 1: 1-7-2
Colgate leading scorer: Tylor Spink, freshman. 12 goals, 17 assists.
Colgate starting goaltender: Eric Mihalik, junior. 2.75 GAA, .904 save percentage.

The big news in this series is that Kyle Flanagan is expected to be in the lineup following his appendectomy early last week. That's very important for a St. Lawrence team that looked very out of sorts in the Capital District without him - a zero-point effort that may have actually done wonders for his Hobey Baker candidacy given how the team fared in his absence.

That's nothing but bad news for Colgate, which has been looking for breaks wherever they can be found over the last six weeks. The Raiders are grasping at straws defensively, as neither Mihalik nor freshman Spencer Finney have been able to keep the puck out of the net since February began. Combine that with a decrease in offensive output from the Spink twins during the second time through the ECAC, and it's a tall order ahead for Colgate.

Both teams come into the playoffs on three-game losing streaks. Only one has an element being placed back into the lineup that should provide some boost, and that team also happens to be at home. St. Lawrence came into last weekend in control of their own destiny for the #2 seed, Flanagan's health may have ultimately cost them four places, but they should still be considered the favorites to move on to the quarterfinals at home.

#10 Clarkson at #7 Brown
Meehan Auditorium (Providence, RI)
Last playoff meeting: 1999 ECAC Quarterfinals (at Clarkson) - Golden Knights won 2 games to 0
Nov. 10: Brown 3, Clarkson 3 (Providence)
Jan. 11: Brown 3, Clarkson 2 (Potsdam)
(Brown wins season series, 3-1)

Brown since February 1: 4-3-2
Brown leading scorer: Matt Lorito, sophomore. 15 goals, 13 assists.
Brown starting goaltender: Anthony Borelli, senior. 1.77 GAA, .943 save percentage.

Clarkson since February 1: 4-5-1
Clarkson leading scorer: Allan McPherson, junior. 9 goals, 16 assists.
Clarkson starting goaltender: Greg Lewis, freshman. 2.98 GAA, .900 save percentage.

Brown learned early on this season that they were going to live and die with their defense, and once they turned to their senior netminder, Borelli, they started winning games they had been tying and tying games they had been losing early in the year. His emergence, practically by itself, has granted the Bears their first home playoff series in several years.

To say that Clarkson limped to the finish line is quite an understatement. Three straight losses by four goals or more - outscored 15-2 in those games - is never a good way to finish the season. The Golden Knights went from first-round bye contention to hitting the road in the first round in just two short weekends.

If Clarkson can't reverse its fortunes on both sides of the ice, it's going to make things very easy on the home team. It'll provide a boost to an otherwise weak offense with few major weapons aside from Lorito and it'll keep one of the league's hottest goaltenders right where he needs to be for his team to be successful.

#9 Cornell at #8 Princeton
Hobey Baker Memorial Rink (Princeton, NJ)
Last playoff meeting: 2009 ECAC Semifinal (Albany, NY) - Cornell 4, Princeton 3 (2 OT)
Nov. 9: Princeton 5, Cornell 3 (Princeton)
Feb. 9: Princeton 1, Cornell 0 (Ithaca)
(Princeton wins season series, 4-0)

Princeton since February 1: 3-6-1
Princeton leading scorer: Andrew Calof, junior. 13 goals, 23 assists.
Princeton starting goaltender: Mike Condon, senior. 2.42 GAA, .925 save percentage.

Cornell since February 1: 4-5-1
Cornell leading scorer: Greg Miller, senior. 14 goals, 15 assists.
Cornell starting goaltender: Andy Iles, junior. 2.37 GAA, .914 save percentage.

Shocking though it may be, the Big Red are not only playing in the first round - something they've only done once before since the tournament expansion - they're also on the road. Losing 10 games out of 11 in the middle of the season is a good way to get that done. However, since that 11-game stretch ended (with the home loss against the Tigers), Cornell is 4-1-1, including a five-game unbeaten streak snapped by a 2-1 loss to Yale this past Saturday to end the season. If you're going to suffer through a season as bad as Cornell's was, that's not a bad three weeks to end the season with.

Princeton, meanwhile, was one of those teams that managed to fly under the radar most of the year. They never went on hot streaks, as their longest winning streak was two and their longest unbeaten stretch was three. Yet they never really had any cold stretches either, save for the four straight losses, all at home, in February which saw their hopes for a first-round bye dashed. They needed a 3-point weekend on the road just to get themselves back to having home ice, which they earned with an overtime victory over Harvard on Saturday. Before then, they hadn't won since the 1-0 road victory over Cornell.

The Tigers did sweep the season series with the Big Red, and they've got home ice advantage, but their playing has got to be better than it was at the end of the season if they're going to get the job done and advance. Cornell was one of the last teams anyone wanted to see in the playoffs as the season was drawing to a close, and unless Princeton can return to the kind of hockey they were playing in January (and against Cornell in general), they could see themselves off to an early exit.

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