BOSTON — Harvard has not come from behind in the third period all season long. Until now.
Yale reversed a 3-1 deficit to a 4-3 lead on a power-play goal by captain Ben Stafford at 4:48 of the third period. But Harvard ripped off four goals in 5:48 to catapult the Crimson to a 7-4 victory and a sweep of its ancient rival in the teams’ first matchup in the ECAC quarterfinals at a raucous Bright Hockey Center.
Yale had gained the momentum on the strength of some solid work on the power play. However, sophomore winger Brett Nowak knocked home a rebound at 7:53 of the third period on extended pressure to even the contest.
Harvard kept pressing the attack and on a power play of its own, captain Steve Moore battled in front of the net to knock in a loose puck to send the student section of Bright Hockey Center into convulsions not heard since the early 1990s. The floodgates then opened as Dennis Packard and Dominic Moore added insurance goals to make the final minutes a mere formality.
“We couldn’t have picked a better time for our first come-from-behind victory,” Harvard coach Mark Mazzoleni said. “We tied the game, got the momentum change and then jumped out all over him. Our kids really played with focus tonight.”
“The game was an emotional roller coaster,” said Crimson freshman Tyler Kolarik, who had an amazing first-period goal and four assists. “We’ve peaked at the right time this season.”
Steve Moore had perhaps his best game of the season, establishing a physical presence and dishing the puck off to his linemates to create offense on both even strength and the power play. In his final contest at Bright Hockey Center of his career, the captain had the game-winning goal and assists on both the tying goal and the score to go up, 6-4 at 10:13.
“He is a senior and he sensed that his time was rapidly growing short to make his presence felt,” Mazzoleni said. “He had his best game in the past two years.”
The Bulldogs appeared to have firm control of this game when Stafford scored on the power play at 4:02 of the third. Jeff Hamilton rifled a shot from the right circle that Crimson senior netminder Oli Jonas could not quite control and Stafford poked in the rebound.
“The high point of the game for us was when Stafford scored,” Yale coach Tim Taylor said. “But once Harvard scored, we couldn’t fight the wave.”
The goal culminated the Eli momentum ride that began with some dirty work by Yale senior winger Lee Jelenic with about seven-and-a-half minutes left in the second period.
Jelenic dished the puck in the corner to Vin Hellemeyer and went to the net, where he knocked down Jonas. Hellemeyer immediately skated out and put the puck into the empty net at 7:26.
While the Crimson was complaining about the lack of a penalty, Jelenic skated from the bench to taunt the star Harvard goaltender. Crimson sophomore defenseman Aaron Kim came off the bench to dissuade Jelenic from taking any liberties and was booked for hitting after the whistle and Jelenic received a 10-minute misconduct.
The penalties didn’t stop there from Harvard and Yale soon found itself up two men.
At 4:48, Nick Deschenes scored on a setup by Stafford to tie the game at 3 on the power play.
Taylor refused comment on Jelenic’s antics, but did speak about the manner the game was officiated as both teams scored critical goals on the power play.
“These were two pretty clean hockey teams that were on the ice,” he said. “It’s a shame that a playoff game came down to penalties. But after the run we had in the second period, we knew that we were probably going to get some called against us in the third.”
Overall, Yale went 2-for-8 on the power play, while the Crimson was 3-for-8.
The loss signaled the final game for Yale’s all-time leading scorer, Jeff Hamilton. He finished the game with three assists, giving him 80 goals and 92 assists totaling 172 points for his career.
“Hamilton is a great college hockey player,” Mazzoleni said. “We had to be aware of where he was on the ice at all times.”
Harvard advanced to Lake Placid for the first time since the 1997-98 season, the first year for the Crimson’s seniors. The win also means that Harvard is 20-1-3 all-time against the Elis at the Bright Hockey Center, which opened in 1979-80.
“It was important to finish the series off tonight,” Mazzoleni said. “It speaks a lot for our team that we had the sweep going into Lake Placid. [Friday] night, I thought our goaltender stole a win for us. Tonight, I thought we were the better hockey team and deserved to win.”
Luke Earl opened the scoring for Yale just 16 seconds into the game. The Crimson came back on goals by rookies Kenny Turano and Kolarik, at 2:42 and 17:48, respectively. Brett Nowak gave Harvard the 3-1 lead at 10:24 of the second period before Jelenic sparked the Yale rally.
Harvard will enter Lake Placid no worse than the third seed, and could be the second seed if Vermont manages to finish off Clarkson.