When asked to identify any dramatic differences between Yale’s men’s ice hockey team and St. Lawrence’s, head coach Tim Taylor made it simple.

“These are two evenly matched teams,” Taylor said.

With 10 conference games remaining in the Bulldogs’ regular season, the drama behind this weekend’s games against Clarkson (9-10-5, 5-3-4 ECAC) and St. Lawrence (7-15-0, 5-7-0 ECAC) Friday and Saturday evening, respectively, is not about dramatic difference. Instead, the Bulldogs (6-11-2, 5-5-2 ECAC) will try to separate themselves from a group of squads with similar ECAC records.

Yale, St. Lawrence and Clarkson are part of a seven-team group separated by four points or less in the ECAC standings.

Before the Bulldogs can even worry about home ice for the playoffs, they have to make sure they come out of this weekend well on the way to qualifying. In the ECAC playoffs, the top two teams receive first-round byes, and the next four get home ice in the first round.

Two cellar dwellers are excluded from the playoffs, left to think about what they can do to get into the playoffs next year.

If the Bulldogs lose their focus, they could be one of those teams.

“Usually, by this time of year, there are a couple of teams that are well out in front and two teams you know are not going to make it,” Taylor said. “This year, there’s none of that.”

The Elis will have a tough time against a Clarkson squad that bested the Bulldogs 2-1 in their last meeting Nov. 10.

The Knights feature the third-best power play in the ECAC and the second-most experienced goaltender in senior Mike Walsh, who has logged 703 minutes of conference play this year.

But Clarkson is also the most penalized team in the ECAC. The Knights are averaging just over 22 penalty minutes per contest, more than twice the Bulldogs’ average of 10.1 penalty minutes per game.

The Bulldogs will counter the Knights’ power play with the third-best penalty-killing unit in the ECAC. The unit is anchored by goaltender Dan Lombard ’02, who leads all ECAC netminders with over 730 minutes in net.

Because of the addition of players who missed the teams’ last contest, Clarkson’s squad will be stronger. But winger Vin Hellemeyer ’04 believes the Bulldogs will be up to the task, despite playing their last game two weeks ago.

“Coach worked us pretty hard last week,” Hellemeyer said. “I think it was a good break for everyone to not have a game this past weekend. We’re ready to play.”

Against St. Lawrence, whom the Bulldogs defeated 2-1 Nov. 9, the Elis will have to contain the threesome of wingers Robin Carruthers, Blair Clarance and Rich Peverly. The trio has combined for 39 points to lead the Saints’ offense, which is ranked second in the ECAC.

While the Elis will again look to their top line, including offensive threats Chris Higgins ’05 and captain Luke Earl ’02, the Bulldogs will have to work without winger Nick Deschenes ’03. Deschenes sustained a deep cut to his quadriceps during practice Wednesday.

Denis Nam ’03 is confident the Bulldogs will still be competitive.

“We’re going to miss Deschenes’ presence at even strength and on the power play,” Nam said. “But I think we’ll be OK.”

When the puck drops at 7 p.m. this evening, the Bulldogs will be playing their first game at Ingalls Rink since trouncing Colgate, 5-0, Dec. 1, and the Elis will have begun the most important stretch of their season.

“The playoffs have begun,” Taylor said.