Previewing the opening round of the playoffs

Overall: 55-27-16

Last time: 9-1-2

If this year’s ECAC Hockey tournament plays out the same as last year’s, then the eventual league champion is one of the eight teams in action this weekend.

Sixth-seeded Harvard won last year’s Whitelaw Cup, beating Brown in the first round before winning at Yale in the quarterfinals. However, that was the first time a team outside of the top four in the league won the championship since the 2003-04 season, when the sixth-seeded Crimson also accomplished the feat.

Check out this week’s notebook for an overview of the weekend along with viewing information. All records are for conference play only, and all start times are 7 p.m., with the exception of a potential Game 3 between Dartmouth and Colgate, which would start at 5 p.m. on Sunday.

No. 12 Princeton (3-16-3) at No. 5 Clarkson (10-9-3)

Season series: 1-1

It might not have shown in terms of wins, but Princeton was a better team this season. Coach Ron Fogarty has stressed the importance of building as the season goes along and then peaking in the postseason. The Tigers might not advance past this weekend, but don’t be surprised if they steal a game in this series thanks to goalie Colton Phinney (.923).  As for Clarkson, the Golden Knights finished the regular season with home wins over Harvard and Dartmouth, pushing its record at Cheel Arena to 13-2-2 this season.

What Princeton needs to do to win: Possess the puck. Clarkson outshot its opponents by 63 during league play, and its struggles on the road two weekends ago were mainly because the Golden Knights spent too much time in their own zone.

What Clarkson needs to do to win: Don’t let Colton Phinney get comfortable. Clarkson has a nice mix of speed and physicality, and using that to win the battles down low could make it a long night for the Tigers defense.

Prediction: Clarkson in three games

No. 11 Brown  (3-13-6) at No. 6 Rensselaer (8-7-7)

Season series: RPI 1-0-1

The season series was closer than it looked, as the Bears led 3-1 at Houston Field House in November and then lost what appeared to be a game-winning goal after the replay system failed.

And in January, Brown led the Engineers 3-0 in Providence before RPI scored four unanswered goals for the win. The Engineers struggled a bit in the season’s final month, and haven’t won a home playoff series since Seth Appert became head coach in 2006. Still, the Bears only one two games in the second half (albeit against Providence and Clarkson), so this weekend marks as good as chance as any for RPI to end that skid.

What Brown needs to do to win: Continue its clean play. Brown isn’t afraid to be physical, but  that rarely results in infractions, as the Bears average the least penalty minutes per game in Division I. Although with RPI’s struggles on the power play, (see below) maybe taking a few penalties to prevent some clean looks wouldn’t be the worst thing.

What Rensselaer needs to do to win: Shut down the top line of Mark Naclerio, Nick Lappin, and Tommy Marchin. The Bears don’t have much scoring depth behind that trio. A few power-play goals would help; RPI is 11-for-98 on the man advantage this season.

Prediction: Rensselaer  sweeps

No. 10 Colgate (6-14-2) at No. 7 Dartmouth (11-11)

Season series: Dartmouth, 2-0

Both these teams play with speed; it should be an entertaining series to watch. Despite giving up a combined nine goals on the final weekend of the regular season,  Dartmouth has been better defensively in the second half. Colgate just can’t seem to get any luck, as the Raiders have been on the wrong end of a number of close games this year.

What Colgate needs to do to win: Continue its strong defensive play from last weekend. The Raiders allowed only one goal in wins against Rensselaer and Union after struggling on defense for much of the season.

What Dartmouth needs to do to win: Don’t get into a shootout. The Raiders overall defensive struggles and group of top forwards might be conducive to that, but the Big Green need to stay committed in its own zone and use its speed to keep Colgate to the outside.

Prediction: Dartmouth sweeps

No. 9 Union (6-10-6) at No. 8 Cornell (8-8-6)

Season series: Union, 1-0-1

The Dutchmen and Big Red each had lengthy stretches of finishing atop the league standings. Now, both teams are playing in the first round of the playoffs for the second year in a row. Union beat Cornell 5-1 at Lynah Rink last weekend, never an easy task.  The Big Red are the highest ranked ECAC team in the PairWise in action this weekend, but at a tie for 19th as of Thursday, Cornell will likely need to make it to at least the final weekend to have a chance at an at-large bid.

What Union needs to do to win: Stay committed. It sounds simple, but Dutchmen coach Rick Bennett has been frustrated with some inopportune penalties and lack of cohesion at times this season. Union’s win on Friday showed that it can drown out the crowd noise at Lynah.

What Cornell needs to do to win: Get an early lead. With goalie Mitch Gillam (.929) in net and a suffocating, physical presence throughout its lineup, Cornell can simply wear down an opponent once it has the lead. The Big Red haven’t score much in the second half of the season, meaning that mounting a comeback could be difficult.

Prediction: Cornell in three