Thursday, March 16, 2017

Playoff Preview: Quinnipiac Bobcats vs. Harvard Crimson

1980 Rink at Herb Brooks Arena, home of the ECAC Championship
For the fifth consecutive season, the No. 19 Quinnipiac Bobcats men's ice hockey team will play in the ECAC Final Four. It was one season ago that the Bobcats broke through and won the program's first ever Whitelaw Cup as the champions of the ECAC tournament. In the semifinals, Quinnipiac faces the No. 2/2 Harvard Crimson a team that the Bobcats split with this season and faced in Lake Placid the past two seasons. This is the rubber match of the regular season and the last two postseasons with a trip to the ECAC finals on the line. Quinnipiac won the first meeting 4-2 but the game was heavily dominated by Harvard who controlled the play for the majority of the game. Harvard took the second game 5-2, but it was a 1-1 score in the second period when the wheels came apart when Harvard scored three consecutive goals in a minute time frame which led to the ejection of head coach Rand Pecknold by ECAC referee Chip McDonald. Junior goaltender Chris Truehl started both Harvard games but was pulled in the second period of the loss to Harvard and replaced by Andrew Shortridge who proceeded to make all 12 saves the rest of the way. All-time, Quinnipiac is 13-12-4 against Harvard. While Harvard is a lock to reach the NCAA tournament and a possible favorite to reach the Frozen Four in Chicago, Quinnipiac will have to win the ECAC tournament if it wants to make the NCAA tournament for the fifth consecutive season.

Tale of the Tape:

#5 Quinnipiac Bobcats 23-14-2 (13-8-1 ECAC)
3.08 Goals scored per game (22nd nationally)
2.49 Goals allowed per game (17th nationally)
18.10% Power Play (33rd nationally)
85.6% Penalty Kill (Tied 9th nationally with Lowell & Sacred Heart)
Cleary Cup Championships: (3) 2016, 2015, 2013
Whitelaw Cup Championships: (1) 2016
NCAA Tournament Appearances: (5) 2016, 2015, 2014, 2013, 2002
NCAA Frozen Four Appearances: (2) 2016, 2013

#1 Harvard Crimson 24-5-2 (16-4-2 ECAC)
4.23 Goals scored per game (1st nationally)
2.29 Goals allowed per game (11th nationally)
26.03% Power Play (4th nationally)
82.6% Penalty Kill (33rd nationally)
Cleary Cup Championships: (11) 2017, 1994, 1993, 1992, 1989, 1988, 1987, 1986, 1975, 1973, 1963
Whitelaw Cup Championships: (9) 2015, 2006, 2004, 2002, 1994, 1987, 1983, 1971, 1963
NCAA Tournament Appearances: (23) 2016, 2015, 2005, 2004, 2003, 2002, 1994, 1993, 1989, 1988, 1987, 1986, 1985, 1983, 1982, 1975, 1974, 1971, 1969, 1958, 1957, 1955
NCAA Frozen Four Appearances: (12) 1994, 1989, 1987, 1986, 1983, 1975, 1974, 1971, 1969, 1958, 1957, 1955
NCAA National Championships: (1) 1989

Key Players:

Quinnipiac: F Landon Smith (29 points), F Craig Martin (27 points), D Chase Priskie (26 points), F Tim Clifton (25 points), D Brogan Rafferty (24 points), F Bo Pieper (24 points), D Kārlis Čukste (15 points), D Connor Clifton (13 points), F Alex Whelan (10 points), G Andrew Shortridge 13-6, 2.03 GAA

Harvard: F Alexander Kerfoot (40 points), F Tyler Moy (39 points), F Sean Malone (38 points), F Ryan Donato (36 points), D Adam Fox (34 points), F Luke Esposito (33 points), F Lewis Zerter-Gossage (24 points), F Nathan Krusko (16 points), D John Marino (12 points), G Merrimack Madsen 24-5-2, 2.26 GAA

Playoff History:

2016 ECAC Finals -Quinnipiac wins 4-1
2015 ECAC Semifinals - Harvard wins 5-2
2008 ECAC Quarterfinals - Harvard wins series 2-1 (0-11, 7-4, 1-3)

The Skinny:

Quinnipiac comes into this game having swept Brown in the ECAC first round and most recently won a hard fought road quarterfinal series in three games against St. Lawrence. They are 10-4 in their last 14 games and have some momentum coming into Lake Placid fresh off a road playoff series win for the first time in ten years. Quinnipiac has gotten outstanding goaltending from Andrew Shortridge who in his last 20 appearances has a 1.79 goals against average and a .931 save percentage. He has been money for Quinnipiac down the stretch as they have started to turn it on. The Bobcats have also started to score down the stretch at a tune of 3.875 goals per game in their last eight games. The Bobcat defense in that same stretch of games is giving up 1.75 goals per game. While scoring goals is the nature of the game, I am not sure you want to get into a shootout with Harvard as that plays right into what they want to do. Quinnipiac needs to slow the pace of this game down and play it on their terms with being physical, blocking shots, stay out of the penalty box, and doing the little things that Rand Pecknold always stresses.

Harvard might be the hottest team in the country outside of Denver, having gone 13-0-1 in their last 14 games and winning 12 straight games. They have won the Beanpot Championship, the Ivy League Championship and sharted the Cleary Cup Championship with Union. This is by far the most talented team top to bottom in the ECAC and they have played like it for pretty much the entire season. Boosted with the top scoring offense in the country and an excellent power play, Harvard can be unstoppable at times. No lead is safe against the Crimson. Just ask Yale who coughed up leads in both games against Harvard in last weekends quarterfinal series. They have a slew of talented forwards that know how to create offense and put the puck in the net. The key to Harvard this year has been their ability to play much better defense along with an improved transition game and that is due in part to freshman Adam Fox and John Marino having outstanding seasons for the Crimson. While they are average on the penalty kill they do lead the country with 12 short-handed goals so that is something to watch out for. Goaltender Merrick Madsen has been strong this season with a 24-5-2 record with a 2.26 goals against average and a .915 save percentage. He did look a bit shaky in net against Yale last weekend and in Harvard's first game against Quinnipiac this season in Hamden. If he is not on top of his game, it gives Quinnipiac an opportunity for an opening to win this game.

The Prediction:

I struggled with this prediction as my heart is obviously in the direction of Quinnipiac but my head says Harvard. Quinnipiac had to scratch and claw their way to a series win against a St. Lawrence team that struggles to score at times while Harvard struggled a bit against Yale and yet still scored ten goals in two games. For Quinnipiac to win they are going to need contributions from everyone, key breaks, and for Shortridge to be a rock in between the pipes. Harvard has been the most consistent team in the ECAC and possibly the country this season and is primed to win Harvard's first national championship since 1989. I think Quinnipiac is going to play this game with nothing to lose, give everything they have, and will hold Harvard to two goals in regulation but comes up short in heartbreaking fashion as Harvard has too many skill players to account for.

Harvard wins 3-2 in overtime

Jonathan Singer is a 2004 Quinnipiac alum. You can follow him on Twitter @QHockeyBlog.

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