2018-19 Playoff Preview: ECAC, Hockey East, and WCHA Quarterfinals

Princeton women's hockey forward Sarah Fillier skates with the puck at the blue line. (Shelley Szwast/Princeton Athletics)

The first round of the playoffs begins this weekend for ECAC, Hockey East, and WCHA teams. (Shelley Szwast/Princeton Athletics)

The quarterfinal round gets under way this weekend in the ECAC, Hockey East, and WCHA. At Even Strength’s women’s hockey playoff primer covers the upcoming matchups, why each team could win, and players to watch in every series.

ECAC

#1 Cornell (20-3-6, 17-3-2 ECAC) vs. #8 Rensselaer (13-16-5, 10-11-1 ECAC)

Why Cornell will win: The Big Red are league champions and come into the weekend with the seventh-best offense in the nation, scoring an average of 3.41 goals per game. They also give up the second-fewest shots on goal, averaging 22 against per game. Cornell’s efficiency and tidy play at both ends should see the team heavily control this series and stay in the driver’s seat this weekend. As long as they cash in on their opportunities, they’ll host the ECAC semifinals and championship next week.

Why Rensselaer will win: If RPI steals a game, or even two, this weekend, it’ll be because of outstanding play in net from senior Lovisa Selander. 50-save outings are pretty much expected from her at this point, but it’ll take a gargantuan effort to slow the Big Red’s offense for two full games and ensure a series win.

Players to watch: Selander is going to be the biggest X factor from the Engineers’ side. Sophomore forward Maddie Mills has asserted herself as a go-to scorer for Cornell, and leads the team with 37 points. Fellow forwards Lenka Serdar and Grace Graham are reliable secondary scorers who could help the Big Red burst through if goals are hard to come by.

#2 Colgate (21-8-5, 15-4-3 ECAC) vs. #7 Harvard (11-13-5, 9-9-4 ECAC)

Why Colgate will win: Their high-flying offense will be what pushes them to a series win. They’ll face stiff competition in net, but the Raiders average over 31 shots on goal per game and score 3.59 goals per game, better than anyone not named Minnesota, Clarkson, or Wisconsin.

Why Harvard will win: The Crimson have the best goaltending in the nation, thanks to freshman Lindsay Reed and her .945 save percentage. But just as important, they’ll need to frustrate a Colgate power play that comes into the weekend ranked sixth in the country (21.3%). Harvard has a very respectable 85.6% success rate on the penalty kill, and winning that special teams battle will go a long way.

Players to watch: The Crimson will likely go as far as Reed can take them, but they’ll also need to get consistent scoring opportunities from leaders like senior forward Lexie Laing (seven goals, 17 assists) and freshman forward Kristin Della Rovere (13 goals, 10 assists). Sophomore Brooke Jovanovich could be a big difference-maker and comes into the weekend with five goals and 11 points. For Colgate, pretty much nobody in the country scores more timely, last-second goals than Jessie Eldridge. Look for her to make an impact with 28 goals and 23 assists this season. I also think freshmen forwards Eleri Mackay and Rosalie Demers could shine in a tight series. And when Olivia Zafuto is on her game, nobody in the ECAC is as good at driving offense from the blue line.

#3 Clarkson (25-7-2, 16-5-1 ECAC) vs. #6 Quinnipiac (12-16-6, 9-9-4 ECAC)

Why Clarkson will win: The Golden Knights’ top line of Loren Gabel, Elizabeth Giguère, and Michaela Pejzlová are the best in the country, and they have been all season. Giguère and Gabel lead the nation in scoring with 63 and 61 points, respectively, and Pejzlová is fifth with 50 points. Consistent production and playmaking from them this weekend should send Clarkson to the ECAC semifinals.

Why Quinnipiac will win: From the Bobcats’ perspective, if that trio is scoring goals, it’s going to be really hard to come away with one win this weekend, let alone two. Quinnipiac is pretty good at limiting offense from opponents, yielding just 24.88 shots on goal per game this season, but more importantly, they need to cut down on high-danger chances against. The Bobcats did hold Clarkson to just one goal in the last game of the regular season, and to less than 30 shots on goal in both matchups so far this year.

Players to watch: Quinnipiac’s second line of freshman Lexie Adzija (18 points), junior Sarah-Ève Coutu-Godbout (14 points), and sophomore Taylor House (14 points) can be very dangerous, and the Bobcats need them to break through for some chances. Top defensive pairing Kati Tabin and Anna Kilponen also give them the best chance at slowing Clarkson’s juggernaut line. Beyond the Golden Knights’ top three forwards, senior Cassidy Vinkle is a good physical presence who can make things tough down the lineup for opposing teams.

#4 Princeton (18-6-5, 15-4-3 ECAC) vs. #5 St. Lawrence (14-13-7, 9-7-6 ECAC)

Why Princeton will win: Princeton has the best power play in the country despite some hiccups the last couple of weeks. For the season, the Tigers are clicking at a 27.2% rate, but they’re 1 for 6 in their last three games, which includes going 0 for 2 against St. Lawrence in the regular season finale. Rekindling that flame will make it that much more difficult for the Saints to stay in control this weekend. And despite a quiet end to the regular season, Princeton’s top-six forwards are typically great at generating chances and pushing the pace of play. The Tigers have only been shut out twice this season: against Wisconsin in October and against St. Lawrence last week.

Why St. Lawrence will win: The Saints have outshot Princeton in both matchups this season. They also bring the country’s best penalty kill (90.7%) into a battle against the country’s best power play. It helps that they’re the least penalized team in the nation, too. Princeton gets a lot of jam from its power play so playing fast and disciplined will be a big key for St. Lawrence in this series.

Players to watch: Princeton senior Karlie Lund had a bit of a quiet stretch in the middle of the season but had four straight games with a point before last Saturday’s shut out. She’s a really important piece of what the Tigers are trying to do up front and if she’s scoring this weekend, it can only mean good things for them. Freshmen Sarah Fillier (16 goals, 32 assists) and Maggie Connors (25 goals, 14 assists) will also look to get back on track in terms of scoring. Justine Reyes and Rachael Smith lead the way up front for the Saints, but Maggie McLaughlin (seven goals, nine assists) can have an impact as a secondary scorer. I also like sophomore defender Skylar Podvey’s game and think she can be a big help to the Saints from the blue line.

Hockey East

#1 Northeastern (23-5-5, 21-3-3 WHEA) vs. #8 Vermont (10-18-6, 8-15-4 WHEA)

Why Northeastern will win: Between forwards Alina Müller, Chloé Aurard, and Kasidy Anderson, defenders Brooke Hobson and Skylar Fontaine, and goaltender Aerin Frankel, the Huskies have possibly the most elite top unit in the country. There’s a lot of skill and chemistry there, and they’ve also proven they can come through under pressure. They’re dangerous to defend and equally as tough to generate chances against.

Why Vermont will win: One of the biggest positives for the Catamounts is their penalty kill, which has a 90.2% success rate. Considering how difficult it’ll be for Vermont to win matchups five-on-five, they’ll need to try and get an edge on special teams instead.

Players to watch: Sophomore Veronika Pettey has quietly been one of Northeastern’s most consistent forwards, and should bring exactly what the Huskies need to this series. Müller leads the team in power-play points, and they’ll look to her to help break down a pesky Vermont PK. Junior Ève-Audrey Picard is UVM’s go-to player, scoring at nearly a point-per-game pace this season, and they’ll need her at her best to get some offense going. Senior Sammy Kolowrat brings a wealth of experience to the blue line and should see tough minutes all series.

#2 Boston College (23-10-1, 19-7-1 WHEA) vs. #7 UConn (14-16-4, 9-14-4 WHEA)

Why Boston College will win: Nobody in Hockey East has a better shots on goal differential than the Eagles, at plus-13.76 per game. They’re very likely to dominate this series, too, in terms of possession and chances. They just need to make sure those chances are threatening, stemming from creativity and awareness, and not just low-danger shots that pile up.

Why UConn will win: With BC putting up over 36 shots on goal per game, the Huskies will need to see above-average goaltending from junior Morgan Fisher this weekend. Her .915 save percentage is respectable but not a number that blows you away. It’ll also be key to chip in a few goals to keep pace with the Eagles early on, and take advantage of whatever frustrations may come from that.

Players to watch: Natalie Snodgrass is UConn’s biggest threat and comes into the series with 13 goals and 13 assists. Defender Tristyn Svetek is also having a good year for the Huskies, with 2 goals, 10 assists, and 68 blocks. On BC’s blue line, Megan Keller is having an enormous year and makes her presence felt at both ends of the ice every single game. And while Daryl Watts and Caitrin Lonergan are still this team’s leaders up front, Lindsay Agnew is riding a three-game goal-scoring streak and has seven goals in her last eight games.

#3 Boston University (19-7-8, 15-6-6 WHEA) vs. #6 New Hampshire (13-15-6, 10-14-3 WHEA)

Why Boston University will win: The Terriers have been one of the country’s hottest teams over the second half of the season. Before dropping the regular season finale to Providence, they were unbeaten in 14 straight games. They have an elite forward duo in Jesse Compher and Sammy Davis, and they’re also getting great goaltending from Corinne Schroeder, who brings a .934 save percentage into the series.

Why New Hampshire will win: Although they don’t have a great record to show for it, the Wildcats are decent at generating offense as a team, putting up an average of 31.03 shots on goal per game. That puts them third in Hockey East, but it hasn’t really translated to offensive success. UNH is scoring at a rate of 2.21 goals per game, eighth in the conference, and going up against the team that yields the fewest goals per game in Hockey East. I think for the Wildcats to have success this weekend, this series needs to be more of a defensive battle instead of a goal fest.

Players to watch: Junior Taylor Wenczkowski has 20 goals on the season, which leads New Hampshire and ranks fourth in Hockey East. BU freshman Mackenna Parker has established herself as a reliable scorer for the Terriers, with 11 goals and six assists. Defender Abby Cook is tied with Compher for the Hockey East lead in power-play points and has seven goals and 18 assists total this year.

#4 Providence (22-10-2, 16-9-2 WHEA) vs. #Merrimack (16-11-7, 12-10-5 WHEA)

Why Providence will win: The Friars are riding a three-game win streak going into the quarterfinals, which includes a 5-2 win over Northeastern. Defensively, the Friars are one of Hockey East’s toughest teams to play, giving up less than two goals a game on average. But to collect two wins from this series, they’ll need their best players to get some good looks and outperform Merrimack’s top-six.

Why Merrimack will win: The Warriors have pretty average underlying numbers in terms of goals scored, goals allowed, and shots generated, but they’ve also taken a huge step forward from last season, when they weren’t even in the conference tournament. They’ve received really good goaltending from Samantha Ridgewell, and she needs to be at her best in this series to provide the team with some confidence and afford them the chance to play a little loose.

Players to watch: Ridgewell’s .938 save percentage is tops in Hockey East, and with Madison Myers and her .928 save percentage at the other end for Providence, this could end up being somewhat of a goalie battle. Each team also has a standout goal-scoring forward: Maureen Murphy for Providence (21 goals) and Katelyn Rae for Merrimack (24 goals). But junior Mikyla Grant-Mentis has also notched 34 points this season, giving the Warriors a more dynamic one-two punch.

WCHA

#2 Wisconsin (28-4-2, 18-4-2-0 WCHA) vs. #7 St. Cloud State (10-23-2, 5-19-0-0 WCHA)

Why Wisconsin will win: The Badgers are one of the deepest teams in the country and rank third overall in goals per game (3.68), first in goals against per game (1.18), and first in shots on goal differential (plus-23.53). They should heavily dominate possession time in this game, and as long as they bury their best looks, they should be moving on the Final Faceoff.

Why St. Cloud State will win: Because of Wisconsin’s pure dominance when it comes to controlling the flow of play, the Huskies will need some outstanding performances in net to have a chance at this one.  While Janine Alder and Emma Polusny have split time in net all season, they’re more than capable of providing that; particularly Alder, who has a .938 save percentage on the year. Notching one or two goals early on in games this weekend will also be a big boost for SCSU as well.

Players to watch: With 19 goals, freshman Sophie Shirley ranks first on the Badgers, and she plays with the kind of energy and assertiveness they need in critical games. St. Cloud State rookie Jenniina Nylund has also been excellent in her first season with the Huskies, with eight goals and 13 assists. Senior forward Julia Tylke is a consistent threat up front and one of St. Cloud’s top producers (10 goals, 11 assists).

#3 Ohio State (18-12-2, 12-10-2-2 WCHA) vs. #6 Minnesota State (9-17-7, 3-16-5-2 WCHA)

Why Ohio State will win: The Buckeyes have been up and down this year, but enter the postseason on a high note after two shootout wins on the road against the Badgers. They’re generally pretty focused on getting their own offensive opportunities and taking advantage of them, without being too concerned about what goes the other way. As long as they convert on those chances, Ohio State shouldn’t have to worry much about getting caught in a tight, back-and-forth game this weekend.

Why Minnesota State will win: The Mavericks have an upset win over Ohio State already this year, so another one this weekend wouldn’t be out of the question. In pretty much all of their wins this year, they’ve relied a ton on goaltending as well as some timely scoring. The Mavericks are averaging just 1.88 goals per game, but in their final regular season series they put up eight goals in two games. If they can continue to scrap together goals, they’ll be in much better position to steal a semifinal bid from the Buckeyes.

Players to watch: Ohio State sophomore Emma Maltais takes a seven-game scoring streak into the series, totaling four goals and six assists over that span. Junior Jincy Dunne is so important to what the Buckeyes try to accomplish, and leads the D corps in scoring with 25 points. For Minnesota State, there won’t be a more important player on the ice than Abigail Levy, who has a .923 save percentage despite facing 990 shots this season. Senior Rebekah Kolstad leads the Mavericks with 10 goals, including three game-winners.

#4 Minnesota Duluth (13-15-4, 9-11-4-4 WCHA) vs. #5 Bemidji State (13-19-2, 10-12-2-0 WCHA)

Why Minnesota Duluth will win: This should be one of the closest matchups across all three conferences, and UMD has pulled off several notable wins in big games this year. Consistency hasn’t been their biggest friend, but they have a cast of forwards throughout their top-nine that can be electrifying when they’re clicking. It’ll be tough for the Bulldogs to come out on top of a defensive battle; they’ll want their offense to have control of the reins in this series.

Why Bemidji State will win: The Beavers are pretty well organized defensively, doing a good job of clogging lanes and blocking shots. But they also have some players who can play well with the puck, namely forwards Claire DeGeorge, Haley Mack, and Emily Bergland, and defender Mak Langei. If that core group of players can knock in some good chances this weekend while limiting what the Bulldogs are able to do, it’s going to be a very interesting series.

Players to watch: Mack was sidelined quite a bit for the Beavers but has played the last four games, notching four points in that span. Sophomore defender Tina Kampa is also going to be a really important player this postseason for Bemidji State; she leads the team with 79 blocks. Freshman Gabbie Hughes has taken the WCHA by storm, punching in a team-high 33 points (16 goals, 17 assists) for the Bulldogs. But if Minnesota Duluth is going to make a run this playoffs, it’ll likely be behind goaltender Maddie Rooney, who I think has yet to reach her full potential this season.

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