ITHACA, N.Y. — Dartmouth head coach Bob Gaudet sat goaltender Nick Boucher for nearly a month so he would be hungry to play his best and help the team win.
It turns out Boucher was starving.
The junior played his best game of the season Saturday night, making 33 saves — including 13 in an opposition-dominated second period — as the Big Green downed ECAC and Ivy League rival Cornell, 5-3, in front of 3,836 at Lynah Rink.
Boucher, a key to Dartmouth’s run to the ECAC semifinals last year, struggled in the early part of the season and had not played since Dec. 13.
He came back with a bang Saturday night, remaining undefeated in three appearances at Lynah as Dartmouth (8-7-1, 5-3-1 ECAC) snapped a two-game losing streak and pocketed a big league win. Cornell fell to 9-5-1 (5-2-1) and is now winless in its last six against Dartmouth.
“Nick Boucher is used to playing here,” Gaudet said. “After the game last night, my gut feeling was to go with Boucher. He’s not going to be intimidated. That’s just the way he is. The bigger the crowd, the better he is.”
Said Boucher, “It’s been almost a month since I’ve played. But I’ve been practicing hard and I’ve changed some things with my work ethic and my approach to the game mentally. And I think I’m better off for it.”
The Big Green supported Boucher with a superior performance on special teams and a big individual night from Chris Baldwin.
The visitors managed to kill seven Cornell power plays — the Big Red entered the game clicking along at 31.2 percent with the extra man — and went 4-for-5 on their own power play, rattling a Big Red squad that had not allowed a man-advantage goal since Nov. 30.
As for Baldwin, he netted Dartmouth’s second goal on a power play when he scooped up a Jamie Herrington pass and blasted in a high shot from the point late in the first period. Midway through the third, Baldwin netted the game-winner with the Big Green’s fourth goal at the 13:44 mark.
“Our penalty kill has been coming along really well the past couple weeks,” Baldwin said. “Tonight, we just went out there and absolutely dominated them. Boucher made saves when he had to make saves, we trapped Cornell in their zone a few times, we went out there with confidence and you saw the result.”
Said Cornell head coach Mike Schafer, “I don’t think that’ll happen to us again this year where we give up four on the power play and go 0-for-7 ourselves. Our penalty killing is normally very solid.”
Dartmouth was clicking on all cylinders in the first period, using strong special-teams play to run up a 2-0 lead.
The Big Green thoroughly killed an early Cornell man-advantage chance before going to work with a power play of its own. Two quick calls went against the home team, giving the visitors two extra men for an extended period.
The first Dartmouth power play ended quietly but the second one ended with a score, as junior Kent Gillings slid one in from a miniscule angle just inside the goal-line on the left side. Mike Maturo and Mike Murray earned assist on the goal, which broke a 20-for-20 penalty killing streak for Cornell.
Dartmouth scored on its next power play, as Jamie Herrington outraced a Cornell player to the puck behind the net before punching it out to Chris Baldwin, who fired a high shot past David LeNeveu (14 saves) for his sixth of the season.
The middle frame was completely lopsided in Cornell’s favor, thanks in part to three successive power plays it received in the opening 11 minutes. The Big Red outshot Dartmouth, 14-2, in the period and did not allow a Big Green shot until the 17:35 mark.
Sophomore Greg Hornby got the Big Red within a goal at the 12:44 mark, taking advantage of a turnover that rookie Mike Knoepfli scooped up and kicked out in front. Hornby fired in his second of the season past a helpless Boucher.
Dartmouth quickly regained its two-goal edge in the third, as Trevor Byrne scored from the point.
But to begin in a frenzied last 10 minutes, Cornell’s Stephen Baby lit the lamp at the 11:43 mark to make it 3-2.
Baldwin answered for Dartmouth at 13:44 mark to make it 4-2, but Cornell’s Krzysztof Wieckowski netted a shorthander at 16:44 to make it interesting again.
It wasn’t until freshman Lee Stempniak scored only 26 seconds later that the Big Red finally ran out of gas.
“This was a big win for our team,” Gaudet said. “I wanted to hand it to the older guys tonight and see if they could bring their ‘A’ game. They did. We battled really hard and picked up a big win in the ECAC and Ivy League.”
Dartmouth returns home next Friday to face Clarkson, while Cornell will host Colgate in the first half of a home-and-home.