NEW HAVEN, Conn. — There’s no such thing as an easy win for the Yale Bulldogs.
Coming off an inspiring 3-2 victory at New Hampshire, the Elis took a seemingly-commanding 4-1 third period lead Friday against Clarkson, only to find themselves inches away from allowing the Golden Knights to even the score in the closing minutes.
But a huge stop by Josh Gartner with 90 seconds remaining robbed Clarkson of the tying goal and gave Yale some breathing room in the final minute of play, enabling the Bulldogs to defeat the Golden Knights 6-3 at Ingalls Rink.
The save was not only the play of the game but also the 45th of the night for the sophomore goaltender, who set a career high with the performance. Gartner made 21 stops in the third period alone as Clarkson dominated Yale in the third, outshooting the Bulldogs 23-8.
“We have a habit of making things interesting,” said forward Christian Jensen, who scored Yale’s opening goal. “Josh was ridiculous — I don’t know how he saved some of those things. He should have been scored on several times and somehow he wasn’t.”
Clarkson’s Dustin Traylen stopped 26 shots on the other end of the ice.
The Bulldogs recorded the only goal of a penalty-ridden first period — the two teams combined were whistled nine times — when Hellemeyer fed Jensen, who shot from the right side of Traylen to give the Elis the 1-0 lead.
Clarkson shot 18 times on Gartner in the first period alone, but he made a number of reaching saves on point-blank attempts.
The Golden Knights were crippled by an inability to get any sort of rhythm on the power play, a failure that was especially significant in this particular game. Tight officiating resulted in 18 penalties caused, and both teams spent most of the first period scrambling on the bench to come up with special teams players to put out on the ice.
Just 4:15 into the second period, the Golden Knights evened the score when Trevor Edwards released a low-angle shot from the right side that seemed to trickle under Gartner’s pads. John Sullivan and Tristan Lush were credited with the assists.
Several minutes later, Clarkson was poised to take the lead. But a Golden Knight attempt midway through the period ricocheted off both posts, and Gartner stifled a breakaway opportunity for Max Kolu less than a minute later.
With 7:08 to play in the period, Joe Zappala stole the puck at mid-ice and fed a precision pass to Jeff Hristovski, who skated in on Traylen and wristed the puck to his high glove side. Less than a minute later, Yale extended the lead to 3-1 after Brad Mills snapped in a pass from captain Vin Hellemeyer for his first collegiate goal.
All six players on Yale’s top two lines picked up points in the game. The top trio of Zappala, Ryan Steeves, and Hristovski combined for three goals and three assists, while the second line of Hellemeyer, Mills, and Jensen contributed two goals and two assists.
“Chemistry is something you can’t teach,” said Zappala, who set up both his linemates for goals and added one of his own. “The way we’re moving the puck right now is fun to watch and fun to participate in.”
Zappala scored his team-leading 11th goal of the season on the power play just 52 seconds into the last period, sliding the puck past Traylen to put Yale up 4-1. But at 17:06, Mike Sullivan followed a rebound of his own shot and brought the Golden Knights to within two goals.
With less than 10 minutes to play, Clarkson came just inches away from a one-goal game after a pileup in front of the net. But the Bulldogs managed to bat the puck away before it crossed the goal line to preserve the 4-2 advantage.
Clarkson was finally able to convert on their eighth and final extra-man opportunity after Matt Cohen was whistled for tripping with less than three minutes to play in the game. The Golden Knights pulled to within one on the power play when Max Kolu knocked the puck past Gartner to bring the score to 4-3.
Yale coach Tim Taylor noted that although he was happy with the win, he would have liked to see Yale give up fewer than the 48 shots it allowed Clarkson.
“We just have got to take a deeper interest in the shots we give up,” Taylor said. “You like to see your goalie win a game for you, but you don’t want to make him have to do that.”
Following Gartner’s huge stop late in the game, the Elis rewarded their netminder with an insurance goal, as Zappala stickhandled past two Clarkson defenseman and hit a streaking Steeves, who extended Yale’s lead to 5-3 with 1:20 to play.
Joe Callahan contributed an empty-net goal to seal the 6-3 victory.
Following the two strong wins for the Bulldogs, Gartner warned against too much elation going into Saturday’s game with St. Lawrence.
“When we were down we couldn’t get too low, and now that we’re up we can’t get too high,” Gartner said. “We need to maintain an even keel.”
With the outcome, the Elis improved to 7-10-0 (6-5-0 ECAC) on the season, while Clarkson fell to 8-8-4 (3-4-1 ECAC). Yale will host St. Lawrence Saturday, while Clarkson travels down to Princeton for games starting at 7 p.m.