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Even after suffering its worst loss since 2018, Syracuse scraped by to win its first College Hockey America regular season title. After falling 9-0 to Mercyhurst in their penultimate game of the season, the Orange had one final chance to claim the top seed ahead of the CHA playoffs. In its second match against the Lakers, Syracuse (13-10-6, 11-4-1) prevailed 4-1 and escaped as CHA regular season champions.
The conference tournament begins Thursday at Syracuse’s Tennity Ice Pavilion, giving the Orange a home-ice advantage for the first time.
Here’s what you need to know about Syracuse’s chances at winning its first CHA Tournament title in four years:
Semifinals: Winner of No. 4 seed Lindenwood vs. No. 5 seed RIT
As the No. 1 seed, Syracuse earned an automatic bye into the semifinal round and doesn’t have to play Thursday. On Friday evening, the Orange will play the winner of No. 5 RIT and No. 4 Lindenwood, the conference’s lowest-seeded teams.
The Tigers only have one conference win this season, which was against Lindenwood on Feb. 12, but their best performance was arguably a 2-2 tie against Penn State.
Syracuse has matched up well with Lindenwood and won three of the teams’ four matchups. The Orange also swept RIT, winning 3-2 in overtime in the first matchup and by a combined score of 15-2 in the remaining three.
The more likely result of the opening-round game will be a Lindenwood win. Although the Lions only have six wins this season, four came in conference play, including a 5-3 win at home against Syracuse on Oct. 23.
In its win against the Orange, Lindenwood led 2-1 after the first period and added three more goals in the final period to secure the win. Still, Syracuse beat the Lions in every other game. Lindenwood has allowed 123 total goals this season, almost double Syracuse’s 72.
SU earned its first conference win of the season against Lindenwood in late October and then swept Lindenwood in a home series almost three months later, first winning 6-1 and then 4-3.
The Lions haven’t challenged Syracuse much this season, but if they let forward Sierra Burt — who has 21 points this season — get hot, Lindenwood could once again upset the Orange.
Championship: Winner of No. 2 seed Penn State vs. No. 3 seed Mercyhurst
The real test of the tournament for SU will likely be the winner of No. 2 Penn State and No. 3 Mercyhurst, the other semifinal matchup.
Even though Mercyhurst is the third best team in the CHA, it was Syracuse’s toughest conference opponent as the Lakers were the only team the Orange didn’t win a majority of the season series’ games against.
The Orange, who are tied for sixth in the country in power play goals with 22, would be matched against a strong penalty killing unit in the Lakers, who rank 14th in the country with an 87% kill rate.
In the first game against the Lakers, Syracuse was shutout in a 3-0 loss. The Orange took 41 total shots, but only 16 went on net. SU even won the faceoff battle by five, but Mercyhurst still managed to score one goal in each period to preserve the win.
In Syracuse’s 9-0 collapse two months later, the Orange were dominated in all areas of the game. Mercyhurst won 15 more faceoffs than the Orange, outshot them by 17 and blocked three more shots.
The Lakers are dangerous, but when Syracuse plays at its strongest it has proven it can handle them. Both times this year, the Orange lost the first game of the series in a shutout but bounced back a day later with a win. This weekend, though, they won’t have another game to adjust as a loss will send them packing.
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While it’s definitely possible that Mercyhurst can beat Penn State, the Nittany Lions won three of four meetings between the two sides this season and would make for a more favorable matchup for the Orange.
In November, Penn State narrowly defeated Syracuse 1-0 in overtime after Natalie Heising scored two minutes into the extra period. The next day, Syracuse trailed 1-0 early in the first period but scored five unanswered goals to retake the lead.
In the away leg of the series, the two were tied 1-1 in the first game after neither team could score in overtime. But the next day, Syracuse edged the Nittany Lions in another overtime matchup, as Sarah Marchand scored the unassisted game-winner.
This season, Penn State only scored a combined six goals against Syracuse, but the Nittany Lions have allowed the conference’s fewest goals with 23 in conference play. Syracuse won the two games where it scored more than one goal against PSU, but it lost or tied in the matchups when it scored one or no goals.
The final breakdown
With reigning CHA champions Robert Morris no longer in the conference, Syracuse has a clear path to winning the CHA Tournament. The Orange have proven they can beat every team in the conference, with at least two wins against each team.
If Syracuse, who is top 10 in the NCAA in terms of penalty kill percentage (90.9%) and power-play percentage (19.6%), sticks to this season’s strengths, an automatic berth to the NCAA Tournament is in reach.
The post Previewing Syracuse’s road through the CHA tournament appeared first on The Daily Orange.