The playoffs begin
Welcome to one of the best weekends of the season. There will be more compelling matchups in the weeks ahead, but at this point, we still have 28 teams in action, and that volume of games ensures that some of them will deliver drama.
The postseason is the enticement that drives the players through the drudgery of off-ice workouts and endless skating drills. Once it begins, the passes are crisper, the forechecks more intense, and the celebrations burst with spontaneous joy.
At the other end of the happiness spectrum, 14 teams will lose series by Sunday, and in almost every case, that means an end to the season. For roughly a quarter of the players, that marks the final chapter of their NCAA careers, and it will hurt to remove that jersey for the last time.
No game will end in a tie, and better yet, there won’t be any overtime gimmicks used to break ties. Best-of-three series hosted by the higher seed reduce the number of underdogs advancing, but if one does, like St. Lawrence in 2012 or RIT in 2015, it indicates that it is no fluke.
College Hockey America
With byes into the semifinals, Mercyhurst and Syracuse are the only teams in the country that know for a certainty that they’ll be playing next weekend. In theory, the Lakers and Orange can sit back and relax while their future opponents get worn down in a grueling series. In practice, neither of the last two CHA tournaments was won by a team that opened with a bye.
RIT at Penn State: Friday, 6:30 p.m. EST, Saturday, 2:00 p.m. EST, Sunday, 2:00 p.m. EST (if necessary)
The Tigers were undaunted by being the league’s lowest seed a season ago in winning a second-straight championship, and they’ll attempt to repeat that trick once more. Penn State swept Lindenwood in the first round in 2015, the program’s first postseason victory. The Nittany Lions took three of the four head-to-head meetings this season, including back-to-back shutouts on home ice at the end of January.
Lindenwood at Robert Morris: Friday, 7 p.m. EST, Saturday, 3 p.m. EST, Sunday, 3 p.m. EST (if necessary)
The Lions are the only CHA team that hasn’t yet advanced beyond the first round. The Colonials won the CHA tournament back in 2012. Robert Morris took seven of the eight points during the season, concluding with a sweep at home.
Because the bottom third of the conference has already been eliminated, the ECAC typically offers the most competitive quarterfinal round. Teams aren’t as familiar with each other as in some other circuits, as they only face each other twice in conference play, rather than three or four times. Harvard was the tournament champ a year ago, but the Crimson start their title defense on the road.
Rensselaer at Quinnipiac: Friday, 2 p.m. EST, Saturday, 2 p.m. EST, Sunday, 2 p.m. EST (if necessary)
Fresh off garnering the program’s first championship, the Bobcats look to parlay the top seed into another. The Engineers are looking for their first goal of the year against Quinnipiac. They did earn a point when the teams played to a 0-0 tie in the first meeting. RPI is back in the playoffs for the first time since 2013.
Cornell at Clarkson: Friday, 3 p.m. EST, Saturday, 3 p.m. EST, Sunday, 2 p.m. EST (if necessary)
Cornell eliminated the Golden Knights from the league tourney the last two seasons, but their losses came in a semifinal and final. Although they’ve won season and NCAA titles, the Golden Knights are still searching for their first ECAC tournament crown. The Big Red closed with four wins this year to gain entry into the field. Clarkson earned three of the four points during the season, including a win in Potsdam in December.
St. Lawrence at Princeton: Friday, 3 p.m. EST, Saturday, 3 p.m. EST, Sunday, 2 p.m. EST (if necessary)
The Tigers play at home in the postseason for the first time since being swept by Quinnipiac in 2011, as they seek to reach their first semifinal since 2006. The Saints have played in a semifinal as recently as 2013. The teams split during the season, each winning a one-goal game at home.
Harvard at Colgate: Friday, 3 p.m. EST, Saturday, 7 p.m. EST, Sunday, 4 p.m. EST (if necessary)
This series’ start times aren’t the only things that go against the grain. Defending champion Harvard meets a team making its first trip to the playoffs since 2013, who it defeated twice during the season, but the Raiders are the hosts. The Crimson, however, are the favorites, as they clash with Colgate in the postseason for the first time.
One of the most surprising facts in Hockey East is that Boston College has only claimed one tournament title. The Eagles will look to get half of the wins needed to double that total this weekend, while running their perfect start to 36-0-0. The two other Boston teams are clear favorites, so most of the intrigue focuses on Storrs.
Maine at Boston College: Friday, 2 p.m. EST, Saturday, 7 p.m. EST, Sunday, 2 p.m. EST (if necessary)
“So you’re telling me there’s a chance?” I’ve never watched “Dumb and Dumber,” but yes, it’s kind of like that. The Eagles only outscored the Black Bears 16-2 in the three games between the two, so maybe it’s not quite as lopsided as that, but it’s close.
Providence at Northeastern: Friday, 2 p.m. EST, Saturday, 2 p.m. EST, Sunday, 2 p.m. EST (if necessary)
The Huskies are searching for their first Hockey East championship, having last reached the final in 2013. Providence last won the conference tourney in 2005, the first season it brought an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament. Northeastern won all three games this season.
Vermont at Boston University: Friday, 7 p.m. EST, Saturday, 3 p.m. EST, Sunday, 3 p.m. EST (if necessary)
Vermont couldn’t win at Merrimack to close the season, so now the Catamounts get to try their luck against the Terriers. The best UVM could do was one tie with the Terriers in the three meetings. BU has won the event in each of the last four seasons.
New Hampshire at Connecticut: Friday, 7 p.m. EST, Saturday, 3 p.m. EST, Sunday, 3 p.m. EST (if necessary)
New Hampshire hasn’t reached a semifinal since 2010, when that’s where its postseason began. The Huskies did so last year by sweeping a road quarterfinal. The Wildcats took two of three during the season, including the only game played in Connecticut.
Wisconsin is the current holder of both the WCHA season and playoff titles, after winning the latter last year in Grand Forks. Bemidji State reached the final for the first time a year ago, something St. Cloud State and Minnesota State have never done.
Minnesota State at Wisconsin: Friday, 7:07 p.m. CST, Saturday, 4:07 p.m. CST, Sunday, 2:07 p.m. CST (if necessary)
The two teams played as recently as the 14th of this month in Madison, an 8-1 win for the Badgers. The good news for the Mavericks is that was their first goal this year against Wisconsin after three straight shutout losses.
Ohio State at Minnesota: Friday, 7:07 p.m. CST, Saturday, 4:07 p.m. CST, Sunday, 2:07 p.m. CST (if necessary)
The last time these two squared off in the playoffs was a conference semifinal in 2013. The Buckeyes own one postseason win over Minnesota, back in 2001 in another semi. The Gophers won four times this year, although one of the games in Minneapolis was close.
Minnesota-Duluth at Bemidji State: Friday, 2:07 p.m. CST, Saturday, 2:07 p.m. CST, Sunday, 2:07 p.m. CST (if necessary)
Bemidji State hosts its first quarterfinal. The Sanford Center was the site of the WCHA Final Face-Off two years ago, but the Beavers did not advance to be a participating host. Minnesota-Duluth looks to avenge a quarterfinal loss to BSU last year in Duluth. The Bulldogs dropped all four season meetings by a total of six goals, with the margin of defeat never being more than two.
St. Cloud State at North Dakota: Friday, 2:37 p.m. CST, Saturday, 2:37 p.m. CST, Sunday, 2:37 p.m. CST (if necessary)
The Huskies enjoyed their best regular season since 2009-10. After advancing past the quarterfinal round for the first time in 2011, North Dakota has now done so five straight years. The two programs meet in the postseason for the first time. The Fighting Hawks had a 2-1-1 edge in the season series over St. Cloud State.