Nicole Haase

NCAA Women's Hockey: What to Watch, Week 26 - NCAA Quarterfinals Edition

It's the playoffs!

Come back each week for a breakdown of the most interesting upcoming games, how to watch or listen to them, and some thoughts on the movers and shakers from the previous week.

(6) Cornell at (3) Northeastern

Saturday at 1:00 PM Eastern

Watch: A paid stream is available on FloHockey.

This game is so interesting because there is no clear way to separate these two teams. Statistically, there isn't a lot differentiating them. They have similar team defense and offense numbers and both starting goalies have similar save percentage and goals against numbers. Northeastern leads the country on the penalty kill, but Cornell is just 1.5% back.

Northeastern relies on a lot of young talent, led by rookie Alina Mueller. Aerin Frankel, in net, is a sophomore and five of their top six scorers are underclassmen. Cornell has a solid group of upperclassmen leadership and sees most of their scoring coming from that older group.

The Huskies will need to tighten up on defense. They gave up two or more goals in eight of their final 12 games and three or more in five of those games. Cornell has the offensive firepower to do some damage and the Huskies do tend to focus more on the offensive side of the ice. They won't be able to overlook the blue line and hope they can score enough goals to make up for it.

Cornell were above average on defense during the season, but Loren Gabel made them look a bit silly in the ECAC championship game when they ended up down 2-0. One big thing to watch will be who starts in net. Regular starter Marlène Boissonnault was pulled after going down 2-0 to Princeton in the ECAC semifinal. Sophomore Lindsay Browning finished that game without getting scored on and Cornell won 3-2 in overtime. She then got the start against Clarkson in the final and took the loss. Boissonnault is seven inches taller than Browning and scouting where Northeastern tends to shoot might make a difference in which goalie gets the net on Saturday.

The Big Red were 9-2-6 on the road this season and obviously Saturday's game won't end in a tie. They're going to have to find that extra level in what will undoubtedly be a tight, closely-contested game.

(5) Boston College at (4) Clarkson

Saturday at 2:00 PM Eastern

Watch: A paid stream will be available via FloHockey.

This game will hinge a lot on which version of each team shows up at puck drop. For Boston College, they will need to have all the weapons in their arsenal firing. For Clarkson, a lot will depend on the play of goalie Kassidy Sauvè, who has seven shutouts on the season, but also has 11 games where she gave up three or more goals. The Golden Knights won just four of those 11 games.

We may also see quite the offensive shoot-out. Clarkson boasts the most prolific scoring corps on their top line, but if anyone is capable of matching them goal-for-goal, it's probably Boston College. The team that scores last could win it all.

BC tends to focus more on the offensive side of the ice – there's a reason defender Megan Keller was the team's top scorer at the end of the regular season. That can leave them vulnerable to a quick transition game, which is a talent Clarkson has in spades. It could be disastrous for the Eagles to try to change up what's mostly worked for them all year, so how they adjust to an opponent like Clarkson and how much those adjustments affect their game will be interesting to watch. Their defenders tend to float forward, which is a huge part of their offensive game, but could give Clarkson exactly the kind of ice they know how to take and exploit.

Syracuse at (1) Wisconsin

Saturday at 2:00 PM Central

Watch: A stream will be available via ESPN+.

Traditionally, the CHA champion follows the high of winning their tournament with the uphill battle of playing the number one overall seed. For the third time in four years, that means a trip to Madison to face the Badgers. In 2017, Robert Morris suffered a 7-0 loss and in 2016, Mercyhurst lost 6-0. Both those teams finished the season with significantly better records than the Syracuse squad that faces Wisconsin this year. The Orange are 13-21-3 and have the dubious honor of carrying the worst record of any team to ever make the NCAA tournament.

Syracuse has the bonus of having played Wisconsin in Madison the first weekend of December, so they've experienced both the long-distance travel and the atmosphere of LaBahn Arena, which will be to their advantage, but there's still plenty to overcome if they want to unseat the top seed.

Both teams ended the regular season on a down note, with Syracuse getting swept by Robert Morris and Wisconsin tying Ohio State twice. And then both teams responded in spectacular fashion, as the Badgers won four in a row to take the WCHA tournament title – their fourth in five years – and the Orange won three in a row to win their first CHA tournament and earn their first-ever NCAA berth, upsetting top-seeded Robert Morris.

The Orange scored 14 goals over the three games of the CHA tournament, well above the 2.08 goals per game they averaged the rest of the year. They have to hope they can keep up that pace as they face an incredibly stingy Badger defense that leads the country and allowing just 1.13 goals per game.

Wisconsin has struggled at times against tough defenses and stellar goalie outings, so the Orange will likely be focusing on their own end of the ice.

Syracuse was fourth in the country in penalty minutes, spending more than 10 minutes per game in the box. They have to stay disciplined to not give the Badgers any additional advantages as the Orange penalty kill is only successful about 80% of the time. Wisconsin's power play is third in the nation, converting 25% of the time. Syracuse coach Paul Flanagan talked about focusing on doing all the little things well, and they will have to be strong on special teams should they become a factor in this game.

For Wisconsin, freshman Britta Curl and senior Annie Pankowski each have six goals so far this postseason. The two seem to have elevated their game at the best possible time and the depth of Wisconsin is what will probably prove the difference in this one.

(7) Princeton at (2) Minnesota

Saturday at 4:00 PM Central

Watch: A stream will be available via ESPN+.

Princeton has earned their third-ever NCAA tournament berth and with it, their third chance to face Minnesota in the quarterfinal. They've previously lost to the Gophers 4-0 in 2006 and 6-2 in 2016. They'll be looking to upset the status quo this time around, but they have their work cut out for them.

Key to the Tigers' success will be whether or not Maggie Connors plays. The rookie sat out the ECAC quarterfinal and Princeton doesn't necessarily have the depth to both shuffle their lines to account for her absence and still adequately match up with Minnesota line-for-line. The Tigers' season was largely successful thanks to the chemistry between Connors, Sarah Fillier, and Carly Bullock. The breakout seasons from both Connors and Fillier in their rookie year were the biggest difference-makers for Princeton. No matter who gets filled into Connors' position, they can't recreate what that top line naturally has been able to do together. Pulling a player up to cover for Connors also significantly affects how strong lines two and three were last weekend. The Gophers second line is as good as its first and the Tigers have to be able to own that matchup to have a chance.

Minnesota played arguably their worst game of the season against Wisconsin in the WCHA championship game. They were barely present in the first period and by the time they seemed to start feeling comfortable and confident, the Badgers already had a 2-0 lead. I'm certain that's been a point of focus for them in practice this week, but the Gophers are at their best when they can smother and overwhelm an opponent. I expect they'll be relentless, but their recent struggles may linger in the back of their minds.

Stick Taps and Snark

Syracuse –  The Orange won three straight games to win their first-ever CHA tournament title and the program's first NCAA berth.

Cornell defense – The Big Red gave up two goals in 26 seconds in the ECAC championship game and eventually lost 4-1.

Wisconsin's Emily Clark and Annie Pankowski –  The pair became the first players in WCHA history to win four conference tournament titles in their career.  

Boston College – After losing seven games in the first half and then two more to start the second half, the Eagles lost just one more time in the regular season and twice over the final 16 games.

(Photo credit: Syracuse Twitter)

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