Elis are money with backs against wall

As the men’s hockey team prepares to open a best-of-three playoff series with top-seeded Cornell tonight in Ithaca, N.Y. (7 p.m., WYBC AM 1340), let’s take a moment to reflect on how the Bulldogs landed a postseason berth.

Outside playoff position with just four games left to play, the Elis — who at that point had dropped six straight — would not lose any of their remaining four games, earning the 10th and final seed in the ECAC quarterfinals by just one point. Simply stated, with their backs to the wall, the Bulldogs performed. Big time.

If this year were played under the rules that will be in place next year, however, Yale would not have needed to worry about a playoff berth. That’s because the ECAC is expanding its tournament to include all 12 teams — joining three other Division I conferences who do the same. If this were the case, then, this past weekend would have been relatively meaningless. It certainly would not have had the importance — and thus, excitement — that it did.

Last Friday and Saturday, head coach Tim Taylor’s squad swept Harvard and Brown in two games that could be described as magical. But Yale’s recent success was in no way the result of magic. No, it was pure hard work and determination that drove the Elis’ into the playoffs. And while no one is claiming that the Bulldogs would not have worked hard had they known they were in the playoffs, there’s no denying that the quest for postseason play propelled them. This is what made last weekend special.

Playing in their final two home games, Yale’s seniors showed why they’ve earned the loyal affection of the crowds who have packed The Whale full over the past four years. Netminder Dan Lombard ’02 made 44 saves in the two games, including several of the spectacular variety, to keep Yale in contention against Harvard, before team captain Luke Earl ’02 fed Chris Higgins ’05 on the game-tying and winning goals late in the third stanza.

Saturday night, Yale saw a 3-1 lead slip away in the middle of the third period before Rob Mutter ’02 netted his first ever goal in his final home game to give Yale the victory and a spot in the playoffs. How appropriate that Mutter, one of the hardest working members of the squad, would finally light the lamp with one of the biggest goals of the season.

During the losing skid, when interviewing Taylor, I found myself half-seriously expecting him to erupt in a Jim Mora-esque rendition of “Playoffs? Playoffs? How can we make the playoffs?”

Of course, no such words ever came out of the Yale mentor’s mouth — his message was to keep the faith, and the results speak for themselves.

Four straight wins to close out the season. A playoff berth. Yes, a playoff berth — still means something, doesn’t it? A pretty darn good Union team is sitting at home right now because they finished one point shy of Yale — and just four points shy of third place in a jam-packed ECAC. This makes Yale’s accomplishment all the more meaningful.

Now, playing with confidence, and proud of their late-season run, Yale has its back to the wall once again, beginning tonight against top-ranked Cornell.

Let the games begin.

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