ECAC Hockey first-round picks

No time for dawdling; it’s playoff hockey. Nate compiled some brief notes on the matchups in his weekly column, and I’ll try not to be redundant.

Let’s cut to the chase.

Dartmouth at St. Lawrence

This series pits a hobbled underachiever against a Johnny-come-lately in what has got to be the toughest pick of the week.

The Dustin Walsh-less Big Green only won consecutive league games thrice all year – once in November, once in January, and once in February. November’s double-W’s was the only four-point weekend that Dartmouth was able to manufacture all year. That doesn’t bode well for the ninth seed this weekend. The Big Green attack has had no pop, only scoring three goals or more in four of its last nine games (2-5-2).

In Canton, the Saints were about as streaky as they come: 0-5 out of the gate, then 5-1, then 0-4, followed by a 3-1-3 stretch across the holiday break. SLU then slumped to another 0-4 run, then back up to 5-0, then two losses and a win to end the regular season. Every time the Saints bottom out, we write them off; every time they soar, we presume that the team and its interim coaching staff are finally on the same page. Where are they now? Statistical analysis is almost meaningless with a team as streaky as this, but one set of figures that does stand out is that over the past eight games, the Saints are 10 for 34 on the power play while holding opponents to only 3/37.

My take: St. Lawrence has been anything but consistent this year, but Dartmouth has been anything but… well… good. The Big Green have utterly failed to capitalize on a skilled and experienced stable this season, and it goes beyond key injuries at bad times. That’s a young team’s excuse. Playoff hockey is a bit of a different animal of course, and Dartmouth rode that beast all the way to Atlantic City last year. They could do it again. But I don’t like their chances, given an utterly lackluster regular season. Saints in a sweep.

Rensselaer at Clarkson

As Nate wrote on Wednesday, the Knights must be bummed to have to play this round after sitting in fourth place at this time last week. Fortunately, it’s still a home series, and ‘Tech is nearly golden at Cheel Arena this season: 10-3-2 at home overall, 6-3-2 against league competition. The team hasn’t fared so well in recent weeks, but it’s not the worst slump of the year for the Green & Gold: That would be the little five-game hiccup bridging the holiday break in which Clarkson went 0-4-1. Returning Knights (players, fans, and otherwise) are hoping to erase recent playoff scars, as Clarkson hasn’t won a playoff series since 2006-07 (0-4, including 0-2 in Potsdam).

It’s the season from hell for RPI, but hope springs eternal as the Trojan icers slowly turn around a catastrophic first half. The Engineers are 7-5-3 in their last 15 outings and 6-4-2 in their last dozen league games; though the offense still struggles, almost any production at all is an improvement over the way RPI started the year. The defense and goaltending have been good, if not great – the ‘Tute was torched for 19 combined goals in three games against Union, Colgate and Princeton in the last six weeks – but the team as a whole finally seems to be demonstrating an understanding for the way head coach Seth Appert said it needs to play in order to win. Score a couple, grind out a dirty W.

My take: The Knights swept the regular-season series with the Engineers, and will certainly enjoy the home-ice advantage. Goalie Paul Karpowich has had good nights and bad, but he is reliable and has the capability to keep Clarkson in tight games. I absolutely believe that RPI can go to Potsdam and steal a game, but I wouldn’t bet on the visitors taking two of three. Clarkson in the rubber match, two games to one.

Princeton at Yale

The Tigers limped to the finish line, 1-4-1 in their last six under first-year head coach Bob Prier. The young team was understandably led by young players (sophomores Andrew Calof and Jack Berger led Princeton in scoring), the goaltending tandem was serviceable if not impressive, and – once again – the Tigers were adjusting to life under a new regime. Those factors made for a challenging, though not outright disappointing year in the Garden State.

Meanwhile in what was repeatedly declared a “rebuilding year” in New Haven, the Bulldogs finished the regular season on a 3-0-1 run and now hope to lean on considerable postseason experience to make another run at the Whitelaw Cup and a third-straight NCAA berth. As has been the case in recent years, the offense has been good-to-great, while defense and goaltending have been sub-par. (As a New Orleans Saints fan, I can tell you that I’ve seen this phenomenon before.) Yale scored four goals or more 14 times (in 29 games), including in three of its last four contests. Unfortunately, the Elis also allowed four or more 10 times… though not once in the last four games. Perhaps Yale is rounding into form at just the right time.

My take: There’s not much to like about Princeton’s chances this weekend: The Tigers have been dreadful on the road (3-8-0 in league play) and are stumbling into the playoffs, while Yale is on a tear and has enjoyed considerable success at Ingalls in recent history. That said, keep an eye on Princeton’s goaltending tandem of Sean Bonar and Mike Condon… if they can get inside Yale’s heads and steal a few big saves, the Tigers may be able to rally against the risk-happy Bulldogs. Nonetheless, I’ll take Yale in two.

Brown at Quinnipiac

It has not been a storybook year for Bruno. A midseason hot streak sputtered out just in time for the ECAC stretch run, and the Bears flopped into an 0-8-2 slump from which they have yet to break free. Brown’s last win was a shocking 3-2 home upset of Union on January 21, but injuries and inconsistencies took their toll as Bruno has mustered only 22 goals in its last 10 games (including six in a gut-wrenching 7-6 loss at Colgate). It’s no wonder, given Brown’s massive struggles, that head coach Brendan Whittet lost his cool at Quinnipiac last weekend when yet another variable failed to break in his team’s favor. The odds are heavily stacked against the visitors, but it’s not insignificant to note that at at this point, every team is 0-0 again.

Brown is a familiar opponent for the Bobcats: Not only did the teams tilt against one another last Friday (QU won 4-1), but this will be the third playoff series between the ‘Cats and Bears since 2007-08. All were played in Hamden, and all were won by the Bobcats. Rand Pecknold’s team has a lot going for it, including home ice, a flat-lining opponent, a warm streak (3-1-1 in its last five), and some modest consistency that – if it can be translated to the playoffs – should spark a successful run over the next few weeks. To wit, Quinnipiac hasn’t lost consecutive games since before Thanksgiving (10-5-4 overall since then). If QU can maintain that pattern and open with a win, the Bobcats will be on to the next round.

My take: Brown is nothing if not tenacious – and I mean that in an almost literal sense. If the Bears aren’t aggressive, assertive and the hardest working team on the ice, they may as well not show up. Whittet’s teams have gone upset-happy before, and anything can happen in the playoffs… but given their magnificent inability to scratch out a W in the last two months, and QU’s dominance at home, I don’t foresee a very long series. Last year’s Brown-QU series went 4-0, 4-0. I’m not seeing that again, but it may not be far off. Quinnipiac sweeps.

Nate Owen’s picks are available in abbreviated Twitter form, right here. Let us know what you think… he’s @Nate_Owen41, I’m @SullivanHockey.