Playoffs in sight, w. hockey hosts

This weekend, the women’s ice hockey team moves into the season’s home stretch — and in terms of snagging a playoff slot this year, the stakes have never been higher.

The Bulldogs (8-7-4, 5-5-2) will face league foe Colgate (8-11-3, 5-5-2) at home Friday night, followed by a match against Cornell (8-9-1, 5-6-1) on Saturday afternoon. The games are the starting point for a solid month-long stretch of league play, culminating in the ECAC playoffs beginning Feb. 29, and with only eight spots available to 12 teams, every conference game counts. The Elis, who have 12 points, are currently tied for sixth place — with none other than Colgate.

The Raiders are coming off a tough weekend — the team dropped two successive contests this weekend, to Clarkson (16-5-3, 7-4-1) and No. 7 St. Lawrence (17-7-0, 10-2-0). The Bulldogs, meanwhile, are coming off a 3-0 victory over Niagara (6-12-4). They will need to take full advantage of that momentum in a game that will likely prove to be closely matched. When Yale and Colgate squared off back on Nov. 10, the Elis battled the Raiders to a 2-2 tie in regulation, only to fall victim to a short-handed goal at 4:21 in overtime.

Cornell is tied for eighth in the ECAC ranks, but point-wise, the Big Red are breathing down the Bulldogs’ necks. The Ithaca squad has 11 points to its credit, trailing the Raiders and Elis by just one. And although Cornell and fellow eighth-place occupant Rensselaer (11-8-4, 4-5-3) have a comfortable five-point margin separating them from 10th-place Brown (3-13-3, 2-8-2), the nearness of a higher playoff slot means they will not be content merely to hold their ground.

This time against Cornell, history is in the Bulldogs’ favor. When the two teams met earlier this year, the Elis pulled out a decisive 5-2 victory. Still, the result is by no means certain, and with the points so close, this weekend could prove crucial to the Bulldogs’ playoff bid — and could set the tone for the month to come. One thing is for sure, though: It is all about conference play, now.

“Our non-conference schedule is over now,” head coach Hilary Witt said, “and we just have to focus on playing well in the league play down the stretch.”

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