ITHACA, N.Y. — It’s been two years since No. 15 Clarkson managed a victory against No. 14 Cornell. The Golden Knights are going to have to wait a bit longer.
Friday night, the Big Red rolled to its fifth straight win over Clarkson, 2-1, in front of a sellout crowd at Lynah Rink. Behind solid goaltending from junior Matt Underhill, good special teams and a crushing defense, the Red earned a crucial two points in its quest for an ECAC crown.
Clarkson (10-7-3, 5-2-2 ECAC) began the night with a strong offensive push on its first power-play opportunity. After sophomore Matt McRae took an obstruction-tripping call at the 2:25 mark, Clarkson came at the Red (9-5-4, 7-2-2 ECAC) with full force, looking very strong but never quite being able to put together its passes when it needed to, a recurring theme for the evening.
The Golden Knights’ inability to capitalize on the power play was another recurring theme from the evening, as Cornell limited Clarkson to a 0-for-7 showing with the extra man.
“I thought our penalty killers did a great job,” said Cornell coach Mike Schafer. “I thought [Underhill] played a tremendous game as far as … not giving them any second chances around the net.”
Meanwhile, the power play that was haunting the Knights was once again Cornell’s best friend. The Big Red, which has scored seven of its last nine goals on the power play, found the back of the net first at the 12:18 mark of the first period.
With junior Matt Poapst in the penalty box for obstruction-tripping, freshman Ryan Vesce took a pass from sophomores Steven Baby and Sam Paolini and put the puck between the feet of sophomore goaltender Mike Walsh.
Walsh never dropped to the ice to try to stop the shot, as the reigning ECAC goaltender of the week was seemingly in shock for much of the first two periods.
The teams traded penalties back and forth for much of the next 20 minutes, and it wasn’t until Cornell got 57 seconds of a five-on-three advantage that it managed to put another puck past Walsh.
At the 11:19 mark of the second, with Poapst sitting next to his linemate Kevin O’Flaherty in the sin bin, sophomore defenseman Doug Murray unleashed a slap shot from the blue line that hit (and broke) the stick of Paolini en route to the top right corner of the net.
From there, the third period was a battle of the Cornell defense against the Clarkson offense. The Knights had come into the contest averaging four goals a game in ECAC competitions, but the Cornell defense and Underhill thwarted continued attacks from the speedy line of Poapst, O’Flaherty, and Rob McFeeters.
Clarkson threw the trio out onto the ice as often as possible, but the Cornell defense bogged down the Knights’ top scoring line.
“Our team, with a 2-0 lead, should bury teams,” Underhill said. “I don’t mean run the score up, I mean give them nothing. Blank them.”
The Red did give something up when Clarkson finally cracked Underhill at the 17:10 mark of the final frame. The Poapst-O’Flaherty-McFeeters line came through when Poapst notched his 10th goal of the year on a sharp wrist shot from the left circle that beat Underhill glove side.
Underhill noted after the game that losing the shutout didn’t put a damper on is feelings.
“Every time you’re out on the ice you want a shutout,” the junior said. “But it doesn’t make it bittersweet at all, a win is a win.”
That goal would be the only time Underhill would be broken, as the overpowering Cornell defense settled in and kept the Knights away from the puck for the final 2:50.