HANOVER, N.H. — Mike Maturo has played some big games for Dartmouth. Few have been bigger than his performance Friday night.
With his team facing the heralded St. Lawrence Saints in a game teeming with playoff implications, Maturo brought his “A” game to Thompson Arena, potting two goals — including the game-winner — and an assist as the Big Green recorded a crucial 5-4 win before 3,526 fans.
Early in the third period, Maturo tallied the eventual game-winner, beating goaltender Sean Coakley with his 16th goal of the season, good for the first 30-point season of his career.
Due to the ECAC’s tiebreaker procedures, the win officially clinched home ice in the first round of the playoffs for the Big Green (13-11-4, 10-7-4 ECAC), an advantage Dartmouth has not enjoyed since 1980.
St. Lawrence (16-11-4, 13-5-3 ECAC), meanwhile, fell a point behind North Country rival Clarkson for first place in the league.
“We knew that a win would help us with home-ice advantage. We really want that,” Maturo said after the win. “This place has been very kind to us this year.”
For Dartmouth, it was a big night all around. The win snapped a five-game winless streak against St. Lawrence and gave the Big Green a 1-0-1 record against the Saints this season.
More importantly, it guaranteed the Big Green a playoff series at home next weekend. Dartmouth now has an eight-game-winning streak at Thompson and is 10-4-0 there this season.
“We’ve just got to take care of business,” head coach Bob Gaudet said. “It was a big game for us tonight. We played hard against an excellent hockey team. They’re an NCAA Final Four team from last year, and I thought we played very well.”
St. Lawrence had trouble generating many shots for long stretches throughout the night, and instead kept the game close by striking with a fury at certain points.
The Saints claimed a brief 3-2 lead in the middle of the second period, but the Big Green struck back and dominated nearly the rest of the game.
Now, St. Lawrence coach Joe Marsh knows that if the Saints are going to win their second consecutive regular-season league title, they’re going to need a little help. Finishing in first, however, isn’t the main thing on Marsh’s mind.
“Our biggest concern is how we’re playing,” said Marsh, whose team will need to beat Vermont Saturday night and hope for a Dartmouth win against Clarkson to finish in first place. “It’s a little different than it was last year, when first place meant an automatic bid to the NCAAs.
“We’re certainly going to try to do it, but Dartmouth has to help us out. They need to do the same thing they did tonight.”
The Big Green claimed a 2-1 lead in a first period in which both teams were fast on their feet.
Dartmouth opened the scoring 10 minutes into the game when senior tri-captain Michael Byrne finished a beautiful pass from freshman Jason Costa. Costa, along the left boards, centered the puck to Byrne, who tapped it past goaltender Jeremy Symington (20 saves) for his fifth goal of the season.
It didn’t take long for the visitors to respond, however. Skating with an extra man, the Saints cut right through Dartmouth’s penalty kill, peppering netminder Nick Boucher (26 saves) with shots before senior Alan Fyfe ripped his 12th of the season into the back of the net. ECAC scoring leader Mike Gellard earned an assist on the play.
Late in the period, Kent Gillings reclaimed the lead for the Big Green. From behind the net, the sophomore Gillings charged in front and poked a wraparound marker past Symington, good for his ninth goal of the year and a 2-1 Dartmouth lead.
Despite being outshot, 14-5, during a busy middle frame, St. Lawrence scored the first two goals of the period.
First, Fyfe got on the board once again for the Saints, deflecting a Russ Bartlett shot past Boucher to light the lamp on the power play.
Minutes later, Gellard got into the act, taking the puck coast-to-coast before sliding it between the pipes to give St. Lawrence its first lead of the game. Symington earned a rare goaltender’s assist on the play.
In the last five minutes of the period, the Big Green perked up.
Chris Taliercio scored the equalizer for the home team, slapping his ninth of the season through the traffic to make it 3-3. Frank Nardella and Dory Tisdale earned assists on the play.
Soon after, Maturo gave Dartmouth its third lead of the night, collecting a rebound before beating Symington with his 15th goal of the season.
Maturo’s 16th, coming against the newly inserted Coakley, proved to be the game-winner, and some strong play by Boucher maintained the Big Green lead.
St. Lawrence netted a goal with one second remaining to set the final margin.
“Our guys are a pretty resilient bunch,” Gaudet said. “Adversity doesn’t seem to get them down. When St. Lawrence took the lead, I think we got after it a little bit more. I thought we worked hard to fight back, and so I’m pleased with the result.”
Dartmouth will host Clarkson Saturday night in its regular-season finale, while St. Lawrence heads up I-89 to face Vermont.