Entering Saturday’s game against St. Lawrence, a win or a tie separated the men’s hockey team from a first-round bye in the upcoming ECAC playoffs.

But a third-period breakdown and four unanswered Saints goals gave the Elis neither, and they will have to wait until next week to see if they finish in the top four spots in the standings.

A night after defeating Clarkson (12-18-1, 9-10-1 ECAC, 19 pts.) 3-1 for their first sweep of the Golden Knights since 1986-87, the Bulldogs (17-10-0, 13-7-0, 26 pts.) fell to the Saints (10-18-4, 7-11-2, 16 pts.) in a 5-3 game. Yale has won nine of its last 11 games.

Two sloppy periods bookended the weekend for Yale, which managed only two shots in the first period against Clarkson and then gave up three goals in the disastrous final frame of the St. Lawrence game.

“We really don’t know what happened,” said center Jeff Hristovski ’06, who scored twice over the weekend. “It was our worst period of the year, I can’t describe it. No one came out to play, and St. Lawrence was probably playing their best hockey of the year.”

The loss was Yale’s worst since Jan. 11, when the Bulldogs squandered two two-goal leads in a loss to Brown.

Midway through the first period, Hristovski opened scoring, and center Ryan Steeves ’04 made it 2-0 less than two minutes later when he redirected a shot on the power play.

The Saints responded shortly after, when Colin FitzRandolph eluded Yale goalie Josh Gartner ’06 to bring St. Lawrence to within one entering the second period.

Less than five minutes into the second period, rookie winger Zach Mayer ’06 scored his third goal of the season on another power play score for the Elis. The goal was Yale’s 14th power play goal in its past nine games.

At 9:46 in the second period, the Saints once again narrowed the game to one with a goal by Ziga Petac, who capitalized on a scramble in front of the Yale goal and scored into an essentially empty net.

The start of the third period was ominous for the Bulldogs; a hooking call on defenseman Bryan Freeman ’03, coupled with a holding call whistled on Christian Jensen ’06, gave St. Lawrence a 5-on-3 power play for nearly a minute.

Yale successfully killed the two man advantage and was only four seconds from finishing the remnant of the 5-on-4 power play when T.J. Trevelyan rushed in for an unassisted breakaway goal that evened the score and riled the 2,155 St. Lawrence fans hoping to see the Saints edge closer to home-ice advantage in the first round of the playoffs.

From that point, the Saints took over, and Yale broke down.

Forward Rich Peverly, who had racked two goals and three assists a night before against Princeton, was the hero for St. Lawrence. On another breakaway rush, Peverly gave the Saints the 4-3 lead. He then setup Matt Macdonald for the two-goal lead at 13:14.

While St. Lawrence was taking advantage of team play to generate offense, the Bulldogs were doing the opposite, with individual players trying to do all the work instead of relying on the usual cohesive and pass-oriented style of play.

“If we won, we would clinch [a first round bye] so people were sort of trying to take it into their own hands a little too much,” Hristovski said. “We got away from our style of skating and moving the puck as a team.”

Friday night, which the Elis won, was initially viewed as the harder game. Two weeks ago in New Haven, the Bulldogs squeaked by the Golden Knights, winning 5-4 on late goals by Nick Deschenes ’03 and Joe Zappala ’06. This time, Yale overcame a bad first period to sweep Clarkson for the first time in 16 winters.

“We played really well; we had a tough first period, then for the next two periods they didn’t get any chances, and we deflated them,” said captain Denis Nam ’03, who added an assist in the victory. “It was really nice to win up there, since we hadn’t won at Clarkson since 1996.”

As he did Saturday night, Hristovski scored the first goal for the Bulldogs less than five minutes into the game after a pass from Evan Wax ’04 was deflected by Clarkson goalie Mike Walsh. But the goal was only one of two shots the Elis were able to muster in the opening frame, and at 15:04 of the first Clarkson captain Kevin O’Flaherty one-timed a pass past Gartner to even the score.

Luckily for the Bulldogs, the game’s remainder saw more offense; they managed 24 shots. Meanwhile, the Elis limited Clarkson to only 14 shots over that time.

At 9:56 of the second period, Wax scored his 18th goal of the season off a rebound of a Steeves shot on the power play. As he has done all season, Wax got himself into position to capitalize.

“We did a great job the last two periods of taking care of the puck in our own end and possessing the puck for long periods of time in Clarkson’s zone,” Wax said. “The last two periods of that game was some of the best hockey our team has played all year long.”

Just over a minute into the third period, a setup by Nam to forward Mike Klema ’04 turned into a goal; Klema took advantage of an out-of-position Walsh for the insurance goal and the 3-1 lead. Yale’s defense, aided by the work of Gartner in net (26 saves) ensured the sweep of the Golden Knights.

The Elis return home for their final weekend in regulation against Colgate and nationally ranked No. 2 Cornell. One point out of a possible four will ensure Yale a bye in the upcoming ECAC playoffs.