While eight ECAC teams will be in action this weekend in the opening round of the conference playoffs, the men’s hockey team has earned the right to take a break.

By finishing tied for third with Dartmouth in the conference standings, the Elis received a first-round bye and will await the outcome of the four best-of-three series this weekend to see who they play in the quarterfinal round. The Bulldogs will host the best seed that survives the first-round; Yale loses the tiebreaker to Dartmouth and is seeded fourth.

Most likely, the Elis will face Brown March 14 and 15. Brown is seeded fifth and plays Princeton at home in Providence, R.I. The Tigers, while grabbing a surprise victory over Harvard earlier this season, have won only one other ECAC game and have little hope of defeating the Bears. Since Brown would be the highest seed to advance from the first round, the Bulldogs would face them next.

The first-round bye is a new addition to the ECAC playoff system, which shifted to a format in which all 12 teams make the playoffs, with the top four receiving byes. Last season, Yale was the 10th and final team to earn a postseason berth in the old system.

“[The new format] is good because it gives every team a taste of playoff hockey, and we ended up with a week off, which is nice,” center Chris Higgins ’05 said.

This weekend’s playoff series feature some good matchups, with travel partners Union and RPI playing each other and two hot goalies facing off in the Colgate-St. Lawrence contest.

“The Colgate-St. Lawrence series could be a great one,” winger Christian Jensen ’06 said. “They’re two teams that underachieved in the first half of the year but are playing strong now. I also think the RPI-Union series will be a close one, because it’s a crosstown rivalry, and RPI plays a physical game, which could make things interesting with the more skill-oriented Union team.”

This late in the season, practices serve mostly as a way to remain focused and get in good playing shape, and head coach Tim Taylor said he has been trying to inject a lighter feeling in this off-week.

“We’re trying to keep everyone fresh and not tire them out, but keep them in shape, and that’s a delicate balance,” Taylor said. “We’ve got a team shootout going at the end of each practice, and there’s been some upsets, and we’re keeping goalie save percentages, so to speak. It’s still going.”

The centers from the top two lines have been upset in early shootout action, with winger Joe Zappala ’06 defeating Higgins and defenseman Nick Shalek ’05 besting center Ryan Steeves ’04.

“Zappala cheated,” Higgins said.

Taylor said after two intense practices over the next few days, his team will get days off before having more specific practices early next week centered around whichever team they will be facing.

“This week is nice with midterms and everything,” Jensen said. “If we had playoffs this weekend, it would be tough not to be distracted from the school work.”

Jensen said forward Zach Mayer ’06, with the creation of a pre-practice dynamic warm-up, has helped keep him and his teammates focused.

As the Bulldogs wait for the outcome of the first round, they continue to rest nagging injuries, as well as focus on small things that will help them to be successful after losing three of their last four games.

“We are just trying to stay fresh and work on the basics a little, which we got away from this past weekend,” Higgins said.