CAMBRIDGE, Mass. — Coming into this weekend, Harvard and Yale had never met in the first round of the ECAC playoffs, but when the two schools have their annual epic football match, it is called The Game.
Judging by Friday night’s performance, this can rightly be called The Series.
The Crimson took a 5-4 lead into the third period and held on for dear life as Harvard edged Yale to take a 1-0 lead in the ECAC quarterfinals in front of the 1,134 who battled the Boston snowstorm at Bright Hockey Center.
The third period was almost a mirror image of the Harvard-Yale game last weekend where Harvard held a 5-4 lead and wound up winning, 6-4 on an empty-net goal.
“I thought neither team could get firm control of this game,” Harvard coach Mark Mazzoleni said. “It was almost like a game of pinball, we scored and then they came right back.”
The Crimson took a 5-3 lead at 13:36 of the second period on a sweet power-play goal by freshman forward Kenny Turano. Sophomore Dominic Moore hit Turano in front of the net and the rookie jammed the puck past Yale goaltender Dan Lombard.
The Elis, however, would not go quietly in this crazy contest in which neither team could establish any flow or control of the game. Pucks seemed to bounce off sticks in a game which saw a total of 67 shots, but few periods of clear domination.
The Bulldogs put itself within imminent striking distance on a power-play goal with just 18 seconds left in the second period. Luke Earl sent a rebound on the doorstep past Crimson netminder Oli Jonas.
But the Bulldogs could draw no closer despite putting 14 shots on goal in a surprisingly scoreless third period after each team netted three in the second. The chances were there until the very end, including a rebound sitting right in the crease with 11 seconds in regulation, but freshman Tim Pettit swept it away before any Yale attacker could send the game into overtime.
“Both teams were ready for some tough, gritty, playoff hockey,” Yale coach Tim Taylor said. “But it turned out to be quite a different scenario. Our team battled back in this game, but we just fell one goal short.”
Typical for a game officiated by Dan Murphy, the penalties came fast and furious, before the whistle went away in the third period. In the second period alone, seven minor penalties were called, including a pair that gave the Bulldogs a 1:43 five-on-three advantage. The Harvard penalty killers were up to the task, barely allowing a shot on goal.
Overall, however, the power play favored the Crimson. Harvard scored three goals with the man advantage and the Elis only managed Earl’s Moreover, the first Harvard goal, a shot that beat Lombard five-hole by star rookie Tim Pettit at 8:43 of the first period, came with both teams skating four aside.
Harvard’s power had been struggling as of late, coming into Friday’s game clicking at just 18.1 percent.
“Our power play didn’t make too many adjustments,” Pettit said. “But our shots just started going in for once.”
Most of the focus entering the contest was on the goaltenders, but for entirely different reasons. Harvard always features Jonas because he has been the team’s undisputed MVP. Though he allowed at least one soft goal, he still made some excellent saves, including robbing Adam Sauve on a breakaway with the toe of his skate midway through the second period. Jonas finished with 37 saves.
But it was a medical marvel that Lombard was even playing Friday night. Last Thursday, he suffered a punctured lung and cracked rib on a collision during supposedly light breakaway drills in practice. After having his lung inflated on Monday, he was medically cleared to play and though he did not make too many spectacular stops, he posted a solid 21 saves.
“I’d have to believe that Lombard was close to 100 percent entering the game or I’m not doing my job,” Taylor said. “There were some goals in the game that he’d like to have back I’m sure and some were not his fault.”
Yale superstar Jeff Hamilton opened the scoring of the game at 5:55 of the first period, before the Crimson came back on goals by Pettit and captain Steve Moore. Moore’s goal came with just 12 seconds left in the first and was just his sixth goal of the season.
Nick Deschenes evened the game just a minute into the second period before Harry Schwefel and Dennis Packard gave Harvard a 4-2 lead. Jason Noe drew the Elis within one on a soft shot that eluded Jonas just 21 seconds after Packard’s goal at 5:51 of the second.
With Saturday night being the third time in just over a week these teams have played, The Series shouldn’t look much different.
“I’d like to stay out of the penalty box, and play tighter defensively,” Taylor said. “But after that there isn’t too much more.”
Harvard now looks for the sweep to advance to Lake Placid, where it would be no worse than the third seed.
“We’ve scouted each other and played each other so much now that there isn’t any new strategy to implement,” Mazzoleni said. “This isn’t a new game. This is period four. We’ve got to have the desire now to go out and win period four and make Lake Placid.”
With the loss, the Bulldogs still have only one win at Bright since it opened in 1979-80. Eli sophomore winger Evan Wax left the game in the first period with a shoulder injury and did not return. He was expected to be X-rayed; Taylor speculated that the injury is a fracture.