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ECAC Hockey weekly analysis and observations: Injury bug hits Quinnipiac, St. Lawrence heating up

Tara Freeman (SLU Athletics)

There are six games left in the regular season for each team in the ECAC, starting Friday night, and as usual, the league race to the playoffs is one of the best and tightest in college hockey.

Union, sitting in first place three points ahead of Quinnipiac, has two tough road contests this weekend at Cornell and Colgate. The Dutchmen went 3-1 in head coach Rick Bennett's absence, including three straight after a loss at St. Lawrence in the first game of his suspension.

Injury bug hits Bobcats

Quinnipiac has been without the services of freshman defenseman Connor Clifton for three straight games after the Phoenix Coyotes prospect suffered an injury at Merrimack. Jordan Samuels-Thomas came away from Friday's game against Clarkson banged up and missed the St. Lawrence contest a night later. Those are two key players for Rand Pecknold's team so it will be interesting to see how prolonged the ailments are to both players.

The Bobcats are 2-2 over their last four games, and will have payback on the mind Friday night at Ingalls Rink in New Haven in the second of two regular season rematches of last year's NCAA Championship game won by Yale. The teams skated to a 3-3 tie back in November at Highpoint Solutions Arena in Hamden.

Saints peaking at right time

St. Lawrence has struggled, especially in its own zone, for much of the season, but Greg Carvel's team might finally be figuring it out. SLU is 3-1 in its last four, including a victory over Union and a road win at Quinnipiac. The Saints took four points back to Canton after road wins at Princeton and QU last weekend. Perhaps more impressively, St. Lawrence accomplished that with just one point on the weekend from star senior Greg Carey.

Defensemen Gavin Bayreuther and Justin Baker are two of the best offensive blue liners in the country, but the team is protecting Matt Weninger better than it has all season. The Lethbridge, Alberta native has a .872 save percentage for the season, but is at .927 over the last four contests.

The Carey brothers will find the back of the net, but Carvel and company will need Weninger to continue playing solid between the pipes if St. Lawrence is to keep its momentum. SLU has a good chance to stay hot this weekend with Harvard and Dartmouth paying a visit to the North Country.

Looking ahead

At this point in the season, any points in the league standings are critical, but the biggest games of the weekend will be occurring in upstate New York at Starr Rink and Lynah Rink. Colgate and Cornell, in third and fourth place, host Union and RPI.

It's not as sexy of a travel partner matchup, but four points is almost a must for Clarkson and St. Lawrence as they host Dartmouth and Harvard over the weekend. Clarkson and St. Lawrence both have the advantage on paper, and need to take advantage of playing lesser opponents on home ice.

The Crimson, coming off a 6-2 win over Boston University in the Beanpot Consolation Game, is 3-1 over their last four games, and have the talent necessary to make a late season push.

Jeff Cox covers college, junior and high school hockey, NCAA recruiting and NHL Draft prospects. Follow him on twitter @JeffCoxSBNation.