ITHACA, N.Y. — For the team that has uncharacteristically struggled much of the year at home, leave it to Cornell to be the only home team to win an ECAC game Friday night. The Big Red’s 4-1 victory over St. Lawrence tightened the standings tighter than a pack of sardines, leaving five teams separated by three points at the top of the ECAC.
Meanwhile, St. Lawrence dropped into a tie for ninth, though actually 10th, since it loses the tiebreaker with Union. Both Clarkson and Union, right behind the Saints coming into the game, won.
“It was tough night tonight for us,” said St. Lawrence coach Joe Marsh, commenting on his team’s drop in the standings.
Cornell has struggled for goals most of the season, especially on the power play. It has the best defense in the league, again, but came into the night tied for the second worst offense. Nevertheless, once it got one, breaking a string of approximately 115 scoreless minutes, the gates opened just enough for the Big Red to eke out a huge home victory.
Down 1-0 late in the second period, the forechecking of sophomores Matt Moulson and Shane Hynes freed the puck out of the corner. Everyone collapsed to the net, leaving Charlie Cook alone at the point. His blast deflected off Ryan Vesce and in, tying the game at 16:04.
Despite the low-scoring game, there were a number of tremendous scoring chances by both teams throughout the night. This was evident in the third period when the teams combined for 28 shots on goal.
Cornell was the one that took advantage, when its fourth line intercepted a bad clear. Mark McCutcheon’s shot was too high, but Paul Varteressian barreled his way to the rebound behind the net, bumping off two defenders before feeding Jon Gleed cutting into the slot. Gleed put a low shot on net inside the post to the right of St. Lawrence goalie Mike McKenna, giving the Big Red a 2-1 lead it would not relinquish.
“That was an outlet play off a contain, and our guy just got a bad break [partially fanning on the breakout pass],” said Marsh. “I thought our guys played hard and I can’t really fault them, it was just a bad break.”
With St. Lawrence pressing, Cornell had back-to-back breakaways, only to be denied. Mike Iggulden came in alone while penalty killing, but missed a chance at the Big Red’s first shorthanded marker in almost two years. Right after that, Cam Abbott — who had gotten a penalty for charging the goaltender on a partial breakaway — came out of the box, split the defense, and again came in alone. He was stopped, but was hooked from behind, drawing another power play.
“It seemed like a linesman was in the way all night,” said Marsh of the multiple Cornell breakaways.
Cornell was unable to convert, going 0-for-7 on the night. But with time winding down and the Saints continuing to press, Cornell was again able to spring a man. Mike Knoepfli poked the puck past a pinching defenseman, and Mitch Carefoot went in alone, just beating a hustling John Zeiler down the ice, roofing a shot into the top left corner, giving Cornell a much-appreciated insurance goal with 1:36 remaining. Cam Abbott added an empty netter.
“I just leaned into it and shot it away,” said Carefoot, one of Cornell’s fastest skaters, if not the fastest. “Coach wanted us to get any shots up high. … [McKenna] goes down a lot, and he’s a big goalie, so it’s hard for him to get back up. … I felt the pressure behind me.”
The first period featured just 11 shots total, but a number of good chances. McKenna made two huge stops, one on Moulson and one on Hynes. The latter came after Hynes jumped out of the penalty box, jumped into the slot, and took a pass from behind the net. He was all by himself in front when McKenna robbed him with the left pad.
Not to be outdone, Cornell goalie David McKee — who entered the game with the fourth best goals against average in the nation — made several great stops. None was better than midway through the third, with the game still very much in doubt, when he robbed Zeiler on the back end of a 2-on-1.
“We played hard, we just couldn’t capitalize on the special teams and power plays,” said Marsh. “Both teams had good chances. We got outshot, that still a good team even though they lost a lot [from last year]. They’re well coached.”
Zeiler scored St. Lawrence’s only goal, when he was left alone in front while his linemates battled in the cycle behind the net. T.J. Trevelyan managed to get it to Zeiler, who buried it.
Cornell can do St. Lawrence a favor if it turns around and defeats Clarkson on Saturday in the ECAC finale. Meanwhile, the Saints can do likewise, as they take on Colgate. A loss by Colgate coupled with a Cornell win would put the Big Red into no worse than a first-place tie, pending Dartmouth’s result.
“The playoffs started tonight and that’s the way we played,” said Carefoot. “In the third period, we really beared down. … We can still finish anywhere from first to fifth.”
Only in the ECAC.