When the women's hockey team travels to Providence and Northeastern for a pair of critical conference games this weekend, the big question will be which Tiger team shows up — the one that convincingly defeated then-No. 3 New Hampshire on Feb. 11, or the one that dropped a pair of very winnable games to St. Lawrence and Cornell just a week later.
As a result, Princeton now sits on the outside of the playoff picture looking in. The Tigers are currently tied for ninth place in the Eastern College Athletic Conference, one point behind St. Lawrence and two points behind Niagara, with the top eight teams making the league playoffs.
Both Princeton (10-10-5 overall, 8-9-3 ECAC) and St. Lawrence(17-12-0, 10-10-0) have four games remaining, while Niagara (17-11-2, 10-11-1) — which finishes its slate with a pair against St. Lawrence this weekend — has only two.
Lies, damn lies . . .
Yet while the numbers here seem to favor the Tigers, the schedule does not. Princeton travels to No. 8 Providence (17-8-3, 11-6-3) and No. 7 Northeastern (18-7-3, 12-5-3) Saturday and Sunday, then returns home next weekend to take on No. 1 Brown and No. 2 Harvard.
"It's not necessarily a make-or-break weekend," head coach Jeff Kampersal '92 said, "but we need at least one win. Hopefully we can get at least three points; that's probably our goal."
A week ago, the problems that have plagued Princeton all season resurfaced in losses to SLU and the Big Red. The Tigers came out flat and fell behind early. Princeton outshot its opponents, but could not translate that shot differential into goals.
If the Tigers are to claim a playoff spot, they will need to duplicate the effort they put forth in the New Hampshire game — which comes down to Princeton playing aggressively from the onset and avoiding costly lapses in the middle of the game.
"It's just a matter of being ready in the games right away, instead of waiting until they get slapped in the face," Kampersal said.
The Tigers will also need to capitalize on their opportunities, something that has been more easily said than done so far this season.
To date, Princeton has outshot its opponents by almost 10 shots per contest, putting an average of 31 shots on net a game to its opponents' 21. But the Tigers have been unable to turn that difference into a goal differential, having tallied just six more goals than their opponents.
"It's probably the more we shoot, the more tense we get," Kampersal said. "So I think it is a confidence issue."
While both Northeastern and Providence have amassed impressive records, the Tigers know they can play with both teams. In its first two games of the season Nov. 6 and Nov. 7 at Baker Rink, Princeton tied the Huskies, 2-2, and lost to the Friars, 2-1, on a late goal.
Getting points against Harvard (16-4-3, 13-4-3) and Brown (17-3-3, 15-2-3) will be a considerably more difficult challenge, which makes this weekend's games even more important.
Win, and Princeton gives itself a chance. Lose, and the uphill battle gets that much steeper. It all depends on which Tiger team shows up.