HANOVER, N.H. — In the end, a game that featured 72 shots, many close calls, and one tennis-ball onslaught boiled down to two veteran goalies at their best.
Dartmouth junior Nick Boucher and Princeton senior Dave Stathos put on a goaltending clinic Friday night before a sellout crowd of 4,500 at Thompson Arena, each saving his team from stretches of defensive inefficiency as the game ended in a 1-1 tie.
Stathos stopped 44 of 45 shots, including 16 in the first period and five in overtime. Dartmouth had a two-on-one rush in the waning moments of OT, but Stathos kept his composure to seal the tie.
Boucher, for his part, made his toughest saves late in the game and finished the night with 27 stops overall.
“Princeton’s goaltender was huge for them,” Dartmouth head coach Bob Gaudet said. “In the first period alone, we were point blank at times, and he was on his game. I thought Boucher played well for us too. It was one of those games where it was tough to score.”
With the tie, Dartmouth (12-9-5, 9-5-5 ECAC) remained in second place in the ECAC standings and set itself up for a do-or-die game Saturday night against Yale for the Ivy League title.
With a tie Saturday night, the Big Green men will share the title with Cornell; with a victory, they will win the crown outright. Dartmouth’s last Ivy championship came in 1980.
“The Yale game has huge implications in the ECAC and the Ivy League,” said Chris Baldwin, who scored Dartmouth’s lone goal at 1:57 of the second period. “We need a win big-time. We have to pick up our game a bit from tonight and go out there and get the win.”
For the Tigers (8-16-2, 7-10-2 ECAC), the tie kept them in good position to grab one of the last playoff spots. Princeton now has 16 points, tied with St. Lawrence for ninth place and two points ahead of Yale. After the regular season ends next weekend, 10 teams will qualify for the postseason.
“This is a big point for us, especially at this time of year,” Princeton head coach Len Quesnelle said. “This team is playing its best hockey right now. Maybe we’re not consistent throughout a game, but we’re playing our best. We’re giving ourselves a chance.”
The first period featured stellar goaltending on both ends of the ice. Dartmouth outshot Princeton, 16-9, but Stathos was up to the challenge, saving his team after turnovers and various other mistakes to keep the game scoreless through the first 20 minutes.
“We were very lucky as a team to be scoreless after the first period,” Quesnelle said. “Dave Stathos gave us a tremendous effort.”
It didn’t take long for the Big Green to solve Stathos after the intermission, however, as Lee Stempniak raced across the blue line with the puck before sending a quick shot on net.
Baldwin collected the big rebound in the slot, punching his 10th of the season into a mostly unguarded net to give Dartmouth a 1-0 lead and ignititing the traditional barrage of tennis balls that results annually from the first Big Green goal against Princeton.
The tennis-ball cleanup took 12-and-a-half minutes before the game resumed.
“That was a pretty good feeling,” Baldwin said of scoring the first goal of his last tennis-ball game as a Dartmouth player. “Stemper showed good speed and made a great play to put the puck on net. I pretty much had an empty net.”
The biggest cheer of the night, even dwarfing the roar after Baldwin’s goal, came with five minutes to go in the second period, when public address announcer John Cameron informed the arena of the United States’ 3-2 Olympic semifinal victory over Russia. Chants of “USA!” erupted in the crowd.
Princeton got the equalizer in surprising fashion at 4:16 of the third period, as right winger George Parros took a pass from linemate David Del Monte before taking a tough-angle shot from just in front of the goal line that sneaked its way past Boucher and between the pipes. Parros’ goal was his seventh.
“We always tell our guys to generate shots and throw everything at the net,” Quesnelle said. “Parros’ goal was a prime example of that.”
The rest of the third stanza was a compendium of close calls and superb goaltending. Princeton had its best chances late in the period, as Dartmouth’s defense weakened and the Tigers had several opportunities directly in front of the net.
Boucher, who said after the game that he was determined to make up for Princeton’s earlier goal, moved quickly from side to side and even sat on a puck once to sustain the tie.
“Boucher made a couple of point-blank saves where I thought we had it finished,” Quesnelle said.
Said Boucher, “I thought I let in a pretty questionable tying goal early in the third period. But you have to put those out of your head and just think about the next shots that are coming. I think I was able to do that.”
Dartmouth hosts Yale Saturday night, while Princeton will make the short trip up Interstate 89 to face last-place Vermont.