Plenty is at stake for the men’s hockey team as it heads into the last two games of the regular season this weekend.
Coming off their first winning streak since November, the Bulldogs (12–13–2, 9–10–1 ECAC) will try to keep their momentum rolling on the road against Princeton (8–13–6, 6–11–3) and Quinnipiac (16–11–5, 8–8–4) before the ECAC playoffs kick off on March 2. A pair of victories this weekend will at least give the Elis a shot at earning a first-round bye and home ice advantage in the playoffs.
In order to secure a chance to open up the postseason at home, the Elis, currently tied for seventh place out of 12 teams in the ECAC with 19 points, must finish in the top four of the conference standings. But two victories alone, which would give the team 23 points, will not be enough to guarantee a top-four finish. The Bulldogs will also need their competitors — Colgate, Clarkson, Harvard and St. Lawrence — to lose their matches this weekend.
Yale’s last trip to Princeton ended in a wild shootout in which the Elis barely emerged victorious. The Tigers jumped out to a three-goal lead in the first half of the opening frame, only to see the Bulldogs tie the score by the end of the period. The Blue and White prevailed 5–4.
“[Princeton is] usually more of a run-and-gun team, but this year they’re more structured and play a more defensive style,” defenseman Gus Young ’14 said. “But our philosophy doesn’t change either way, we want to bring the game to them.”
The key to this weekend’s action for the Bulldogs is their offense, which ranks seventh in the nation with 3.48 goals per game. In their last four victories, the Elis have averaged a stunning 5.5 goals per game.
Last weekend, the Bulldogs outscored Ivy rivals Dartmouth and Harvard by a combined score of 12–4 and showed a deadly transition offense that has been missing from their game all season long.
Defenseman Kevin Peel ’12 said an aggressive offensive game plan will be especially important against Quinnipiac on Saturday. The Bobcats bested the Bulldogs 2–1 at Ingalls Rink in January.
“[Quinnipiac is] solid defensively, so we need to think shoot-first all the time,” Peel said. “The more pucks we put on net, the better chance we’re going to have at scoring enough goals to win. We didn’t do that last time we played them, and that’s how they were able to beat us.”
The Bobcats’ defense is ranked 13th in Division I hockey, surrendering just 2.47 goals per game. But even more impressively, the Quinnipiac penalty-killing unit ranks third in the country, one spot ahead of Yale.
In their last seven losses, the Elis converted just three of their 28 power play opportunities.
“It’s going to be very important to get a strong showing from our power play this weekend,” Peel said. “You’ve got to take advantage of that situation if you want to win. They have a very good penalty kill, but if we keep it simple and stick to what’s been working for us, I’m confident that we will be successful.”
The Bulldogs went a combined 6-for-18 on power plays last weekend against the Big Green and the Crimson, which raised their season average to 23.8 percent.
On Saturday night, the Blue and White will likely face a hostile horde against Quinnipiac at TD Bank Sports Center, where a sold-out crowd last season tried in vain to faze the Elis. Young said the team is excited to take on the unfriendly atmosphere.
“It should be fun,” Young said. “We’re pretty pumped. They’ll have a lot of students, and it’s going to be fun to play in front of them.”
The puck drops at 7 p.m. on Friday at Princeton and 7 p.m. again the next night at Quinnipiac.