ITHACA, N.Y. — In the battle between the highest and lowest seeds in the ECAC Tournament, the regular-season champion Cornell squad eked out a 2-1 victory over the Yale Bulldogs in a classic college hockey game which featured crisp puck movement, tight defense, and stellar goaltending from both teams.
“It was a very hard-fought game,” Yale head coach Tim Taylor said. “We played great in our own end, and we had some chances to get our second goal before they got their first.”
The first score of the game came just 2:44 in, when Chris Higgins took a feed from Luke Earl just outside the blue line and skated into the right circle, where he fired a low wrister past the stick of Matt Underhill, just squeezing the puck between Underhill and the left post.
Though they only lit the lamp once in the first period and did not score in the game’s final 57:16, the Bulldogs played what may have been their best offensive stanza of the year to start the game, keeping the pressure on Underhill, who was amazing in net.
The teams combined for 17 shots on goal in the opening frame and both goalies made huge saves. Dan Lombard, who stopped all nine shots, halted Cornell captain Stephen Baby’s breakaway midway through the period, while Underhill got his pad on Mike Klema’s rush with just seconds left.
“I think we were moving around a little bit too much at the beginning of the game,” Big Red defender Doug Murray said. “Yale did a great job at the beginning of the game, and we didn’t get enough pressure on them, but we adjusted.”
The second period was as exciting as the first, and the home squad gave a sell-out crowd of 3,836 two occasions to cheer. Lombard made seven fine stops and was about to reach his 35th minute of shutout hockey until Sam Paolini passed the puck into the slot and it hit junior forward Matt McRae in his skates. McRae could not locate the puck at first but managed to get it on his stick in time to flip a low shot that appeared to go through Lombard’s legs at the 14:52 mark and even the score at 1-1.
Only a few minutes later, the Bulldogs fumbled the puck just seconds into a man-advantage at the Cornell blue line and junior defenseman Murray skated the length of the ice before reaching the right circle. Murray unleashed a hard wrister that found a hole under Lombard’s arm on the glove side. The shorthanded goal switched the momentum and the score, 2-1, at 17:31. The Bulldogs came back with numerous chances on the advantage but could not solve Underhill, who stood on his head that period.
Both teams had plenty of chances to score in the third but the two netminders stole the show. Lombard, who deserved a better fate, finished with 25 saves, including nine in the third, while Underhill had 21 stops. Yale pulled its goalie with 1:15 left but had trouble getting shots on net.
The Bulldogs, who with their backs to the wall won four games to earn a playoff spot in closing out the regular season, face elimination Saturday night against Cornell, with whom they have either tied or played one-goal games in their last four meetings.