HANOVER, N.H. — The Rensselaer team that has given Dartmouth fits in recent years never made an appearance this weekend at Thompson Arena.
The fifth-seeded Big Green completed a convincing sweep of the sixth-seeded Engineers Saturday night, scoring three second-period goals en route to a 5-1 win and a berth in the Final Five in Lake Placid, N.Y., next weekend.
Dartmouth (15-12-4), which received a 17-save game from sophomore goaltender Nick Boucher, will face either Cornell or Vermont in a play-in game Thursday night at the 1980 Olympic Arena for the right to play in the Final Four.
“It’s a great feeling,” said Dartmouth head coach Bob Gaudet. “I thought we were just outstanding. I knew this team had another gear in it, I think we showed some of that tonight in front of a great home crowd.
“We’ve been pushing to get to Lake Placid, but we don’t just want to go there, we really want to get after it while we’re there. My team works incredibly hard, so I know we’re going to be ready.”
RPI has been a nemesis of Dartmouth’s in recent years, going 16-3-1 against the Big Green in the 1990s before sweeping Dartmouth in a first-round ECAC playoff series last March.
This weekend, the Big Green got some revenge, never trailing after battling back from a 2-0 first-period deficit in the opener Friday night. Dartmouth outshot RPI, 56-18, Saturday night, taking more than 50 shots for the first time since the school’s last home-ice playoff game — a double-OT thriller against Colgate on March 9, 1993.
For the Big Green, it was a good feeling to sweep the home series, but it might have felt extra special coming against RPI.
“That was the best part of this whole thing,” said Chris Baldwin. “To beat those guys here like they beat us last year is just outstanding.”
Baldwin was the star of the weekend, finishing with four points, including a goal and an assist in the clincher.
“It’s always nice when you can point to something tangible and say, ‘I had a point here or a point there,’ ” Baldwin said. “But obviously, everyone contributed. Everyone was outstanding. It was a great team weekend.”
Dartmouth is making its first trip to the final round of the ECAC Playoffs since 1980, when Gaudet netminded the Big Green to the NCAA Final Four.
The Engineers, meanwhile, finish the season 17-15-2 after going 0-for-4 on the power play and, according to their head coach, not doing enough to earn quality scoring chances.
“Looking back, I think we made some adjustments to them, but I don’t think we adapted very well to those adjustments,” Dan Fridgen said. “I thought at times we handled it well, but we never got a break or anything that could have changed the tide for us.
“We knew what we needed to do, we just didn’t execute.”
The Big Green took control from the start, pouring 16 shots on Nathan Marsters (51 saves) in the first period while claiming a 1-0 lead.
Five minutes into the game, the Big Green lit the lamp when Baldwin took care of a rebound and beat Marsters with his third goal of the weekend.
RPI managed just six shots in the opening 20 minutes while going unsuccessful on one power play.
If the fans thought that Dartmouth had dominated the first, they hadn’t seen anything yet.
RPI had some stretches of control in the middle frame, but the Big Green still outshot the Engineers, 16-7, while beating Marsters three times.
Chris Taliercio tallied the eventual game-winner with a power-play marker seven minutes into the period, taking a Baldwin feed in the slot and slapping it just inside the left post. Taliercio’s goal was his 10th of the season.
With five minutes to go in the period, Dartmouth’s top line got into the act, as Mike Murray and Kent Gillings first took shots before team scoring leader Mike Maturo chipped in a rebound to make it 3-0.
With 25 seconds left before the intermission, Dan Casella stretched the home team’s lead to four goals, skating from the opposite blueline on an RPI power play before beating Marsters with a 15-foot slapshot. Casella’s goal, Dartmouth’s fourth shorthander of the season, was his second of the year.
With seven minutes left in the game, RPI scored its first goal since the first period Friday night — breaking a 101-minute, 10 second scoring drought — when right winger Conrad Barnes netted his fourth of the year.
Dartmouth didn’t take long to answer, as Jason Costa floated a backhander past Marsters.
The Big Green is 10-1-0 at Thompson since January 1, and now looks forward to Lake Placid.
“It’s unbelievable. It doesn’t seem real quite yet,” Baldwin said. “But we’ll be back at it Monday in practice and we’ll be ready to go.”