HANOVER, N.H. — Dartmouth’s hockey players gave head coach Bob Gaudet a perfect present for his birthday: a come-from-behind win over nemesis Rensselaer in the first game of the ECAC playoffs.
After falling behind, 2-0, early in the game, the Big Green stormed back to score four unanswered goals — two by junior right winger Chris Baldwin — to complete a 4-2 victory against the Engineers Friday night in front of 2,309 fans at Thompson Arena.
Down 2-1, the Big Green netted a pair of goals in a 39-second span of the second period to notch its first lead of the game. After Peter Mahler scored the equalizer, junior Jamie Herrington netted the eventual game-winner, his sixth goal of the season.
The victory, Dartmouth’s first in the playoffs since Gaudet was between the pipes back in 1980, puts the Big Green (14-12-4) one win away from taking the best-of-three series and moving on to Lake Placid, N.Y., next weekend.
“I thought we played great during that stretch in the second period, and we had enough in us to hold them off,” Gaudet said after the win. “RPI is an excellent team, and this is a two-out-of-three series, so this is just one game. And we know that.
“We just have to work hard and be ready for them tomorrow.”
Having lost to RPI, two games to none, in the first round of the playoffs last season, the Big Green fell behind once again early in this game. Team scoring leader Matt Murley lit the lamp for the Engineers (17-14-2) just 39 seconds into the game, and Danny Eberly made it a 2-0 lead later in the period.
But from then on, the visitors were left off the board, as goaltender Nick Boucher registered 38 saves and the Big Green won its first game in nine tries when trailing after one period.
Gaudet thinks the experience that his players gained in last year’s playoff loss may have helped them keep the early deficit in perspective.
“To come in knowing the intensity of the playoffs was really key for us,” he said. “Tonight, we were down, 2-0, to a very good hockey team, but we found a way to battle back.
“But we also know that it’s only one game. I’m pleased with the win, but we still have work to do.”
Despite getting outshot, 17-9, in the first period, RPI wasted no time grabbing an early lead.
Thirty-nine seconds after the opening faceoff, Murley potted his 24th goal of the season after taking a feed from linemate Jim Henkel and beating the Dartmouth defense half the length of the ice. Murley’s goal was his fourth against the Big Green this year.
Later in the period, the defenseman Eberly gave RPI a 2-0 advantage on the power play, one-timing a Marc Cavosie pass past Boucher’s outstretched arms. Jim Vickers also earned an assist on the play.
Down by two goals with the home fans sitting on their hands, Baldwin got the Big Green on the board with 13 seconds to go in the period. With his team on the power play, Baldwin blasted a shot from the blueline that snuck inside the left post for the right winger’s 12th goal of the season.
“Baldy’s goal was huge,” Gaudet said. “I thought we had played pretty solid hockey up to that point, but they had scored on two really nice plays. So to get a power-play goal at the end of the period was big for us.”
In the middle frame, Dartmouth claimed its first lead of the night with a pair of goals 34 seconds apart.
Mahler knotted the game at two, collecting a rebound before beating Nathan Marsters (36 saves) with his third marker of the season. Trevor Byrne and Chris Taliercio earned assists on the goal.
Less than a minute later, Herrington gave the home team the advantage, taking a feed from Pete Summerfelt soon after a faceoff in the RPI zone before converting his sixth of the year.
“We came out in the second and I thought we stood around and watched them play,” said RPI coach Dan Fridgen, whose team is playing its first playoff games on the road since the 1995-96 campaign. “They took it to us right off the opening draw. I don’t know if we were confident being up by a goal, but I’ll tell you what — if you want to get anything in this league, especially at this point in the season, you have to earn it.”
RPI outshot the Big Green, 15-10, in the third stanza, but outstanding play from Boucher kept the Engineers off the board.
Baldwin fired the puck into the empty net with 45 seconds remaining to ice the win.
“I don’t think we need to change anything tomorrow night,” Fridgen said. “I just think we need to play 60 minutes with intensity, being hungry and with the type of work ethic that we showed out there in the first period.
“When we didn’t do that, that’s when they got back into the ball game.”
The two teams will meet again Saturday night in Game 2 of the series.