The Harvard men's hockey team and Cornell, two sworn enemies, split the regular season series, each taking a game in the other's building.
But rivalries aren't meant to finish in draws and fittingly these two squads will meet this weekend in a best-of-three series in the Quarterfinals of the ECAC Championships in Ithaca, N.Y. The winner earns bragging rights, but more importantly a trip to Lake Placid for the ECAC Final Five.
Harvard (11-15-2, 9-10-2 ECAC) failed to advance to Lake Placid last year, falling at RPI in three games. The last two times the Crimson and Big Red met in the playoffs, Cornell (13-12-2, 10-9-1) has ended Harvard's season, including a 2-1 win at the ECAC Finals in 1996. The Crimson had been making a Cinderella-run through the postseason, but could not get the final victory needed for the NCAA berth.
"I think we're playing our best hockey at the right time of year," junior defenseman Tim Stay said. "We're sticking to the system."
Harvard faces a tall order to avoid extending the Big Red's playoff streak to three. Of all the teams in the ECAC, the Big Red presents the Crimson with one of its worst match-ups.
Despite splitting the season series, Cornell has had a clear edge in both games the teams have played. In Harvard's 2-1 victory on Nov. 13, the Crimson was outshot 34-14, most of which were high-quality. Senior goaltender J.R. Prestifilippo was unable to pull off similar heroics in a 6-2 defeat on Feb.4 at Bright. In the second period of that drubbing, Cornell outshot Harvard 19-4.
The Big Red has been able to dominate the shot chart because of its four-man forecheck. Running an aggressive version of the Detroit Red Wings' left-wing lock, the system denies the defenseman a breakout pass up the sides, forcing him to go up the middle.
This bodes particularly poorly for Harvard because its defensemen are not as adept carrying the puck up ice and making quick decisions, then actually guarding the blueline. Poor decisions in the breakout often result in turnovers, which would allow Cornell to utilize its primary advantage, size.
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