TROY, N.Y. — Thirteen seconds.
That’s all it took for all the hard work Princeton put in during the first two periods to go up in smoke. And that’s all it took for “Mr. Clutch” — otherwise known as Chris Migliore — to score twice, early in the third period, to give Rensselaer a two-goal lead it would never relinquish.
The 5-3 win for the Engineers was the first in the ECAC postseason in two years, and gave them a 1-0 best-of-three opening-series lead over the Tigers.
Princeton led 2-1 until Carson Butterwick’s goal midway through the second period, on a relatively soft, low shot, that hit off Princeton defenseman Matt Maglione’s skate and found the inside of the post to the left of Tigers goalie Dave Stathos. Being tied instead of down heading into the third, was a big lift for the Engineers.
Then RPI came out like a house of fire in the third, and pounced on the Tigers. Aided by a bad defensive breakdown, Migliore gave the Engineers the lead just 65 seconds into the third period. He remained on the ice, and his line quickly got the puck back in the zone, where another breakdown left Stathos hung out to dry. He stopped an inital shot, but Migliore knocked in the rebound before Stathos could cover it.
The goals were Migliore’s fifth and sixth of the season, and the latter wound up as his third game-winner.
“The first one, Jimmy passed it over to me and I got the one-timer past the goalie and the next one the puck was just lying there and I poked it home,” said Migliore. “It was big for momentum because they got on us when we were flat, so we came out in the third and that was big for us.”
Princeton coach Len Quesnelle called a timeout to settle things down, and it seemed to work, as Josh Roberts went straight down the right wing, and lifted a shot over the shoulder of RPI goalie Nathan Marsters from a sharp angle, just 42 seconds after the latter Migliore goal to get Princeton back on track.
The game became even more wide open after that, and the whistle was put away. But once things settled down a bit, RPI did a good job of clamping down the middle and frustrating the Tigers’ comeback attempts.
The Engineers then effectively put the game away on Andrew McPherson’s goal at 12:20.
“I told them not to change what we were executing,” Fridgen said. “We build our offense off our defense. The guys did a good job keeping their composure [after Roberts' goal].”
While the defense played well in the third, everyone was talking about the timely burst of offense from Migliore. The Engineers scored five goals without any from 20-goal scorers Marc Cavosie and Matt Murley.
“I guess when it rains it pours,” said Migliore. “It’s never happened to me before, but you can ask Murls [Murley] about that, he’s used to that.”
Forward Jim Henkel had assists on both of Migliore’s goals. He said the play of the “secondary” lines bodes well for the Engineers.
“If we keep four lines rolling, we’ll be tought to beat,” Henkel said. “They [the Tigers] work hard. They play 60 physical minutes. So if we’re getting balanced scoring, we’re better off.”
RPI outshot Princeton 16-9 in the first period, but were held off the board until defenseman Jim Vickers put in a long rebound after a series of good saves by Stathos.
But in the second period, Princeton did what RPI would do 20 minutes later — it came out on a mission.
Sharam Fouladgar-Mercer tied the game just 20 seconds into the period, then, just over four minutes later, Steve Slaton finished off a nice Princeton power play with a one-timer into a wide-open near side for his first goal of the season and a 2-1 Princeton lead.
However, that would be the Tigers’ only power-play opportunity of the night, while RPI had four.
“We expended too much energy on the penalty kill for my liking,” said Quesnelle.
RPI didn’t score on its power-play chances, but it got its legs back, got the big tying goal from Butterwick, and some big saves from Marsters to keep it tight before Migliore could explode in the third.
“We got away from the little things [in the second period], we were sluggish,” Henkel said. “When we were like that in the middle of the year, we got back to the basics and we got a winning streak going.”
Of course, Princeton was saying much the same thing about the third period, but it didn’t have another period to recover with.
“We scored the big goal in the second, but they came back and did the same thing to us in the third,” Quesnelle said. “We let our guard down.
“I thought we got ‘out-competed’ in some one-on-one situations. … We didn’t put enough pressure on their defense.”
After the game, Fridgen, of course, wasn’t making his Lake Placid plans quite yet.
“This series is far from over. We’re halfway there,” Fridgen said. “They’ve got a real good squad. They play us tough. This is a good matchup.”
Notes: Stathos is now 0-5 in the postseason. This was his first loss by more than a goal. … Princeton has never beaten RPI in the playoffs, including the 1999 and 1997 consolation games, the 1995 final, and the 1985 quarterfinals. … Princeton has never won a game in the first round of the playoffs after losing the opener. Oddly, while Princeton has also never lost a series after winning the opener, none of those were two-game sweeps. … Game 2 is Saturday at 7 p.m.