NEW HAVEN, Conn. — Heading into the third period on Saturday night, with a 2-0 lead over Yale, the players on the Princeton bench couldn’t help but wonder what the final stanza had in store for them. After all, the Tigers had seen three games in the previous two weeks slip away in the waning minutes of regulation.
But the Tigers (3-2-3, 2-2-2 ECAC) responded to an early Yale goal in the third to escape New Haven with a 3-1 win, thanks in large part to an outstanding performance from goaltender Dave Stathos. He made 31 saves, including 25 in the final two periods, to record the victory before a sold out Ingalls Rink crowd of 3,486. Dan Lombard, who had a number of spectacular saves as well, made 27 stops for Yale (5-3, 3-3).
“We seem to have bad luck in the third periods lately, so we didn’t have a lot of third-period confidence,” Stathos said. “In the last five minutes of games, we seem to have problems, but to win on the road tonight really gives us a lot of confidence.”
Princeton’s most recent bad luck struck on Tuesday night against Yale, when the puck took a strange carom off the end boards, bounding in front of the Tiger net. Yale defenseman Jeff Dwyer slapped the loose puck past Stathos with 1:56 left in regulation to clinch Yale’s 4-3 win at Baker Rink.
On Saturday night, the Bulldogs appeared to have wrested momentum away from the visitors when Jeff Hamilton fired a rocket past Stathos just 32 seconds into the third period. On the power play, he one-timed a Nick Deschenes pass from the bottom of the left circle to cut Princeton’s lead to 2-1.
But 54 seconds later, fortune finally smiled on the Tigers.
Brad Parsons — who had a goal and an assist — picked up a loose puck in the Princeton zone and raced untouched through center ice and into the left side of the Yale zone. He fired the puck towards the Yale net but his play across did not go on goal. Instead, it glanced off the stick of Yale’s Spencer Rodgers in the slot and bounded into the goal.
“We got a bounce that went our way tonight,” Princeton coach Len Quesnelle said. “On Tuesday, it went Yale’s way.”
Yale coach Tim Taylor thought his team performed better in the loss on Saturday than in the win on Tuesday, but he was still frustrated by the early events of the third period.
“That goal was unfortunate for us,” he said. “After we scored right away, bringing the building to life, they score two shifts later and put us right back to two goals down. Psychologically, it was an ill-timed goal.”
Until the fireworks in the first two minutes of the third period, the Tigers controlled the scoreboard.
Princeton defenseman David Schneider — back in the lineup after missing five games with an injury — tallied the first goal of the night, flinging a wrist shot towards the net from the right point. Lombard was screened and never saw it until the puck rattled off the back of the net just 2:45 into the game. The goal was the culmination of Yale’s futile attempt to clear the puck, which lasted more than a minute.
“If you throw that one awful shift that resulted in their first goal, we played a pretty good hockey game,” Taylor said.
For the next 20 minutes of play, the two teams battled evenly, though Princeton repeatedly threatened to extend its lead. Lombard came up with a number of spectacular saves, notably against David Del Monte midway through the second period. He robbed Del Monte on the doorstep, snatching the hard, close shot out of the air with his catching glove.
“We continue to give up too many quality shots,” Taylor said. “We’re asking too much of Dan every night.”
The Tigers solved Lombard for the second time when Chris Corrinet slipped a loose rebound in the low slot past the Yale goaltender at the 17:20 mark of the second. It was a power-play goal that turned out to be the game-winner.
“Dan was immense again for us, particularly in the first and second period,” Taylor said. “In the third period, Stathos was immense.”
The Princeton goaltender weathered a late Yale storm, knocking aside 12 shots in the third period to earn the win. The Bulldogs pulled Lombard with 1:25 left but could not beat Stathos.
“On Tuesday night, Dave left a lot of rebounds out there, and they scored a couple goals off second chances,” Quesnelle said. “But he was much better tonight, not giving them so many opportunities.”
In addition, Princeton’s defensive corps did a better job of keeping Yale’s shooting lanes clear for Stathos to make easier saves.
“We did a great job in front of the net tonight,” Stathos said. “I was able to see most of the shots, and most of my saves were with my arms. I had fewer saves with my pads, so there were fewer rebounds.”
Stathos noted that Schneider’s return not only paid dividends with his first-period goal, but also contributed to the team’s improved team defense.
“It was great to have him back,” Stathos said. “He’s great at moving bodies in front of the net, and he’s one of the more solid guys out there.”
The two teams split the season series for the first time since 1994-95, and the Tigers are now 5-1-1 against the Bulldogs in the last three years. They are part of a three-way tie with Union for third in the ECAC with six points, though the Dutchmen have two games in hand on both Yale and Princeton.
Both teams head north next weekend as Yale visits Cornell on Friday night while Princeton takes on Colgate. On Saturday, the travel partners will switch venues with the Bulldogs taking on the Red Raiders and the Tigers visiting the Big Red.