This is it. Ready or not, the playoffs are here. Not in many years have there been so many question marks for Cornell heading into the playoffs. Like clockwork, the Big Red would gradually improve and hit their stride right around this time, ready to face anyone. It just did not happen that way this season. At times, they were dominant and were scoring goals on demand like many expected they would. There were other occasions, however, where the well went dry and Cornell could not score to save their lives. This would magnify the team's vulnerable areas: defense, goaltending, and special teams.
Herein lays the key. Cornell needs to score to win. Maybe this seems obvious but it really is not. In the past, the Big Red could win a lot of games by playing solid defense and scoring timely goals. Now, the offense is the strength of the team. Really, it isn't even close. No area can be as good as the offense much the same way that no area could come close to the team defense the last five seasons. When the defensive scheme would break down, Cornell would have a lot of trouble winning hockey games. This year, it is the opposite.
Sure, they have won a handful of close, low-scoring games, including the most recent clash with Quinnipiac that they won 2-0, but the overall numbers reveal the true story. Cornell has scored 59 times in their 14 victories this season, an average of over four goals per game. In the 15 games they have not won, the Big Red has scored only 29 times, averaging just under two goals per game.
When Cornell scores two or fewer goals, they boast a 3-9-2 record. This record actually is not that bad, which shows that the Big Red are still capable of winning the tight, low scoring games. The point is that Cornell has been more successful when the offense has been in gear. Again, it seems obvious, but you cannot argue with an 11-2-2 record when scoring three or more goals in a game. This team needs to score to be successful. They can still win some low-scoring games but the true strength of this team is in their offense.
What does this all mean? It means that Cornell needs to be prepared to win games 5-4 if they have to. Their game plan cannot be to win 2-1 every night. The defense, goaltending, and special teams just are not good enough this season. You can either accept that or you can continue to win these types of games. It sure didn't work against Dartmouth and Harvard. It didn't work against St. Lawrence either. Go out and score some goals. The weapons are there. Take a few chances if necessary, but get that early lead and try get up by a couple goals. It has been pretty obvious this season that when Cornell gets out to that early lead and keeps their foot on the gas and keeps trying to extend that lead that they can beat anyone. That's right, anyone. The two best teams Cornell has played this year – New Hampshire and Clarkson – saw five goals scored in each game. In each of those games, they opened the scoring in the first four minutes. Do it early and do it often.
If it is not obvious to everyone yet, Cornell can play with everyone. However, on any given night, anyone can play with Cornell. They need to stick with what has given them success if they are to be successful. It is somewhat fitting that Cornell play a relatively similar team to open their playoff run. Quinnipiac has proven that they can score a lot of goals, more than Cornell. At the same time, their defensive game has struggled more than Cornell's. Quinnipiac's goaltending is stronger and so are their special teams. What does it all mean? Nothing.
The best part of the playoffs it that the board is erased and the games themselves become the big picture. The season will be determined in the coming week(s). What has happened prior no longer matters. What matters for Cornell is that they have proven that they can play at a high level. It may be a different style than their recent predecessors, but they need to find a way to win regardless of the style.
For everyone interested in what Quinnipiac can do, look at their schedule and statistics. They can score a lot of goals though they have not done that much lately. Last weekend in their first round sweep over Union was the first time the Bobcats have won back-to-back games in 2007. Whatever. They are a good team, just like every team Cornell will face from here on out. The bottom line is that you can prepare for the opposition, but ultimately all that matters is what you do. Cornell can beat anyone - they have proven it. Now they have to prove it when everything is on the line. Prepare for the X's and O's, but playing to your own strengths and playing with emotion and urgency is what trumps everything this time of year. When all is said and done, the offense, defense, goaltending, and special teams are important, but they are not what determines a team's ultimate fate. The teams that comprehend that are the ones who have success, period.
Game 1: Quinnipiac 2 - Cornell 3
Game 2: Quinnipiac 2 - Cornell 1
Game 3: Quinnipiac 2 - Cornell 3
Davenport or Scrivens?
Yup, there is a bit of a goaltending controversy looming over the team heading into the playoffs. Schafer has gone on record as saying the guy who wins will play and when he loses, the other will go in. Because Scrivens was the losing goalie in their last game, common sense indicates that Davenport will be the first one on the ice Friday night. Common sense also says that Davenport played pretty well against Dartmouth and should have played the next night. Common sense also says that the two goals Davenport gave up in the first Colgate game were unstoppable but Schafer pulled him anyways. Lets just stick to the facts. Davenport's record is superior to Scrivens's. Davenport is older and more experienced. Davenport won a championship in arguably the best Junior A league in North America last year. Sorry to the Scrivens fans out there, but this is a no-brainer. Going beyond the mere facts, Davenport has quite simply been the better and more comfortable-looking goaltender.
If both Jared Seminoff and Taylor Davenport return, who will sit?
Who should sit or who will sit? Expect Evan Salmela to come out of the lineup as per the usual. He has played very well since re-entering the lineup against Rensselaer the third-to-last weekend of the season and has brought some stability and puck-moving ability to the back line. The worst defenseman last weekend was unquestionably Brendon Nash though it seems unlikely that he will sit. His skating is just too glaring of a weakness for the game that he plays. He got burned a dozen times against Dartmouth and Harvard and he is incapable of catching up to someone who beats him. It would be passable if he knew the game well and made good decisions, but he is a freshman who frequently struggles with his decision-making. Nash can be an asset on the powerplay which is the main argument for keeping him in the lineup. Another option would be to dress seven defensemen which would actually make sense considering the fact that Seminoff will not be able to play close to the 30 minutes a night he was playing before getting diagnosed with mono.
8. Colgate vs. 1. St. Lawrence
On paper, this one may not seem close, but everything changes in the playoffs. Goaltending could determine this series and it is pretty clear that Colgate's Mark Dekanich can steal any game in which he plays. The Red Raiders also have some weapons up front although they have struggled to score goals at times this season. Perhaps the biggest difference between these two teams is playoff experience. Colgate has been to Albany three straight years and is battle-tested. St. Lawrence is younger and appears to be vulnerable. They have only lost one game on home ice all season but again, none of that matters now. When a team is playing for its season, throw everything else out the window. With St. Lawrence the prohibitive favorites, expect them to buckle a bit and the experienced Colgate team to prevail.
Colgate in 3
7. Harvard vs. 2. Clarkson
The Golden Knights return home after three straight years of coming to Lynah. Unfortunately for them, they play one of the hotter teams in the conference in Harvard. There is no dodging the fact that Harvard's five seniors have played in three ECACHL Championship games. Clarkson has a wealth of experience from their games at Lynah and the seniors did play in the ECACHL Championship game as freshmen. Ted Donato has seemingly found the formula for this time of year when his teams always peak. They struggle at the beginning of every year but eventually get it together and fight through every obstacle to get to the title game. Clarkson is battle-tested but they will have their hands full with unquestionably the most dangerous team in the conference. On paper, it should not be even close, but the same could be said for many games with Harvard the last few years. Expect a very close series.
Harvard in 3
6. Princeton vs. 3. Dartmouth
The Big Green has been the best ECACHL team over the last month. In many circles, including this one, they are the favorite to win the post season title. Princeton has played some very good hockey lately, but Dartmouth is superior in every category. The Big Green have a lot to prove after their embarrassing exit in Albany last year and they seem to be peaking at the right time. This one shouldn't be close although Princeton has played very well down the stretch and unquestionably has less to lose.
Dartmouth in 2