TROY, N.Y. — With help from one of the nation’s leading scorers, the final seconds of Rensselaer-Dartmouth Part 2 were a bit less suspenseful than in the original.
Matt Murley, a junior left winger, recorded a hat trick as RPI bounced back from an early 2-0 deficit to beat the visiting Big Green 4-2 before 3,104 fans at Houston Field House on Friday.
With his team trailing 2-0, Murley scored a pair of goals in a four-minute, 16-second span of the opening period to knot the game at two. Late in the game, Murley ruffled an empty net to complete the hat trick and give RPI a split of the regular-season series.
With the win, the Engineers improved to 13-9-1 (6-5-1 ECAC), while Dartmouth slipped back to the .500 mark at 9-9-2 (6-5-2 ECAC).
“I thought we were behind the 8-ball early in the game, but there was still a lot of time left,” RPI coach Dan Fridgen said. “Once we got ahead, the key to the game was to keep our composure, and I think we did that.”
Murley, third in the nation in goals per game entering the night, scored his 18th, 19th and 20th goals of the season, spelling the difference as RPI avenged a 2-1 loss to Dartmouth last Saturday at Thompson Arena.
“I thought he played a real good game for us,” Fridgen said of Murley.
For the visitors, who parlayed a successful January into a higher spot in the ECAC standings and some votes in the national rankings, the early lead wasn’t enough to avert yet another bad memory of RPI’s rink.
No member of the Big Green — save for the coaches — has experienced a win at Houston Field House, and the most bitter pill was a two-game sweep last March in the ECAC playoffs.
On this night, the RPI power play was the biggest difference, as the Engineers took advantage of a 5-on-3 chance when Dartmouth was leading 2-0, and from there the home team took control of the game.
“The 5-on-3 was a swing point in the game,” Dartmouth coach Bob Gaudet said. “We had two absolutely evenly-matched hockey teams, and a 5-on-3 is a goal at this level.
“It’s a difficult thing. It’s unfortunate we were in that situation.”
The Big Green raced to a quick 2-0 advantage with a pair of goals in less than five minutes.
Gary Hunter scored first, converting on a long-distance shot from the boards that caromed off goalie Kevin Kurk’s pads and between the pipes. Hunter’s goal, his first point in 10 games, was set up by Ryan Sinclair and Jamie Herrington.
Minutes later, Michael Byrne snapped a personal scoring drought of his own, tallying his first point in 12 games by beating Kurk (two saves) only a second after a Big Green power play ended.
After that, Nathan Marsters (25 saves) replaced Kurk in net, and RPI stormed back with consecutive goals from Murley.
Seconds after a 5-on-3 power play ended, Murley connected on a 5-on-4, rifling a blazing slap shot past Nick Boucher (29 saves) to make it 2-1. Not long after, Murley picked a rebound off Boucher’s pads and hacked it in to knot the game at 2.
The Engineers weren’t done. Again on the power play, they took their first lead of the game when sophomore Nolan Graham scored his 11th of the season, capping the scoring in a wild first period that included five penalties.
The middle frame was more sedate, featuring just one infraction. RPI outshot the Big Green 12-11 in the period, but the score remained 3-2 going into the third period.
RPI closed out the win in the third, as Marsters stopped all seven shots he faced, and Murley completed the hat trick with 31.7 seconds left to seal it.
“We just need to work real hard now to get a split on the road,” Gaudet said. “This is a tough trip for us, so we’ve got to be ready to go. I know the guys will be.
“I thought we played hard tonight.”
The Big Green will head down Route 7 to face Union on Saturday night, while RPI remains home to host Vermont.