NEW HAVEN, Conn. — Saturday night’s game at Ingalls Rink was brought to you by the number three.
Yale picked up a 6-3 victory over Dartmouth to win its third straight game. The Bulldogs scored the first three goals, the Big Green answered with three of its own before the host Elis finished with the game’s last three scores to clinch an ECAC playoff berth.
Jeff Hamilton had his third hat trick in the last 11 games — the third straight game a Yale player has scored three goals — while Luke Earl added a goal and three assists. He finished with nine points on the weekend, as the Bulldogs (14-13-0, 10-10-0 ECAC) earned their first sweep in six weekends, ended Dartmouth’s five-game unbeaten streak and swept the season series from the Big Green (12-11-4, 9-7-4).
Ben Stafford also had three assists for the second consecutive game while Jeff Dwyer, Nick Deschenes and Evan Wax all helped the Yale cause with a pair of points.
Goaltender Dan Lombard made 29 stops for Yale, while Dartmouth’s Nick Boucher had 23. Frank Nardella paced the Big Green with a goal and an assist while Chris Baldwin chipped in with a pair of assists.
“This was an exciting hockey game,” Yale head coach Tim Taylor said. “You can’t predict how these games are going to go. We were expecting a very low-scoring affair not unlike our [1-0 overtime] game with Cornell.”
By virtue of Colgate’s loss to St. Lawrence, the Bulldogs clinched a spot in the playoffs while also keeping their hopes alive for home ice in the ECAC quarterfinals. They are now tied for sixth with RPI at 20 points, trailing fifth-place Dartmouth by just two. The Big Green did not lose ground on Cornell and Harvard, both of which lost on Saturday.
Yale also eliminated Dartmouth from Ivy League championship contention, moving into a first-place tie with Cornell. With a win over either Harvard or Brown next weekend, the Elis can clinch their third Ivy crown in four years. Harvard is still in contention, three points behind, with two games to play.
A night after becoming the all-time Yale scoring king, Hamilton kept up his torrid pace with his second hat trick in the last three games. Before a sold-out crowd of 3,486 on senior night, he brought his team back with a pair of jaw-dropping third period goals after the Bulldogs had blown a 3-0 lead.
“We needed that,” he said. “Our line did a pretty good job pressuring the puck in their end, caused some turnovers and scored some goals.”
In his first 19 games this season, Earl had posted 14 points playing center on Yale’s second line. But since moving up to left wing on the top line a week ago, he has four goals and eight assists in three games.
“I don’t know what’s going on,” Earl said. “The puck’s just bouncing my way, and I’m playing with two great players.”
For the second straight night, Earl scored the game’s first goal early in the first period. While on the power play, Jeff Dwyer held the puck at the right point and wound up as if to shoot. Boucher squared to the freshman defenseman, but Dwyer instead passed to Earl at the far post, and he easily backhanded the puck past Boucher at the 5:07 mark for his 10th goal of the season.
Yale took a 2-0 later in the first. Dwyer gave Nick Deschenes a pretty pass up the left wing, and he tore into the Dartmouth zone. As he reached the left circle, he slowed down then passed through the slot to Wax who beat Boucher for his sixth of the season at the 13:24 mark.
Hamilton got into the act with his 19th goal at the 7:14 mark of the second period. After a Dartmouth turnover at its own blue line, Earl came into the zone 2-on-1 with Stafford and tried a wrister from the left circle. Boucher made the initial stop, but Hamilton swooped in to bang home the rebound from the slot and give Yale a 3-0 lead.
The Big Green responded with three unanswered goals of its own, beginning with its lone power-play opportunity of the night. Nardella held the puck in the corner to the right of the Yale goal, then exploded towards the front of the net. Lombard stopped the first shot but Nardella gathered the rebound and flipped it over the sprawling Yale goaltender for his fourth goal at 10:06.
Mike Maturo — Lombard’s best friend and former high school teammate at the Belmont (Mass.) Hill School — beat his buddy late in the second to pull Dartmouth within one. Lombard made an initial save on Chris Baldwin coming up the left side, but Maturo was there to punch in the rebound for his team-leading 14th goal at 18:36.
Dartmouth kept its momentum going early in the third when a long shot from between the points by P.J. Martin found its way into the Yale net, tying the score, 3-3, just 2:37 into the final period. The Big Green had come all the way back from a three-goal deficit, but Hamilton soon answered with an outburst of his own.
After Boucher clamored for an icing call on Yale’s dump-in, Hamilton, Stafford and Earl harried the Dartmouth defensemen along the boards and behind the net. Eventually, Earl was about to poke the puck free, leaving it loose in the left circle. Hamilton corralled it, did a 360-degree turn and fired a wicked wrist shot through a screen at the 5:04 mark. It turned out to be his fourth game winner of the season, and he increased his Yale career record total to 18.
With the Bulldogs clinging to a one-goal lead late in the third, Hamilton put the game away with a brilliant individual effort. He picked up the loose puck just outside the Dartmouth zone, moved in one-on-one against a defender, used some fancy stick work to buy himself some space at the top of the right circle, then uncorked a fierce wrist shot off his back foot that surprised Boucher. The goal came at 17:11 and clinched his third hat trick of the year and fifth of his career.
Ryan Steeves added an empty-netter with 1:18 left in regulation for his second marker of his rookie campaign.
Dartmouth returns home to host ECAC leader St. Lawrence on Friday night and second-place Clarkson on Saturday. Leading Yale and RPI by two points and Princeton by three, the Big Green is in control of its own destiny. Based on tiebreakers, the Big Green can knock Rensselaer and Princeton out of the hunt for home ice with two points and can do the same to Yale with three points.
The Bulldogs travel to Harvard on Friday and Brown on Saturday with aspirations of gaining home ice in the quarterfinals as well as an Ivy League championship.