PROVIDENCE, R.I. — The talented Harvard Crimson hit full stride at just the right point. After a lackluster regular season, Harvard has now won four in a row, and took a one-game lead in its best-of-three ECAC quarterfinal matchup at Brown with a 4-2 win.
Friday, Harvard rode its hot goaltender, Dov Grumet-Morris, who made 28 saves to outduel highly-regarded counterpart Yann Danis. Grumet-Morris held Brown to just one goal until the final seconds, when the Bears cut the lead with a power-play goal.
In their two meetings earlier this year, Brown came out on top both times behind Danis, the Hobey Baker candidate in Brown’s net. The Crimson got to Danis Friday, with two goals in the second and two in the third. Tyler Kolarik, Tim Pettit, and Brendan Bernakevitch each had a goal and an assist.
“This is just one game, and it’s a best-of-three series,” said Harvard head coach Mark Mazzoleni. “They’ll be better tomorrow. We will too. You can count on that.”
Harvard knows about winning in the playoffs. In the four years this senior class has been with the team, the Crimson are 13-2 in the ECAC tournament. A similar group rolled over Brown with a two-game quarterfinal sweep in 2002. Kolarik, a senior, has made a career of picking it up in the playoffs.
“This year it was just a matter of us executing,” said Kolarik, who has 7-14–21 numbers in 16 ECAC playoff games. He gave Harvard a lead it did not surrender with a second-period goal. “Sometimes it takes teams a while to come together. Luckily we’re hitting our peak just at the right time. But we’re just trying to take it one game at a time.”
Harvard and Grumet-Morris were successful in keeping Brown’s offense subdued by limiting second chances. Mazzoleni’s strong blueline unit outmuscled the Brown forwards down low all night, and kept sticks away from second chances on net.
“We don’t want to end on this note,” said Brown senior forward Brent Robinson, who scored both of his team’s goals. “We just have to get free of their sticks. The opportunities were there tonight, we just have to fight to get to them.”
“I give them credit,” Brown head coach Roger Grillo said. “They did a good job of blocking us off and holding us out of the middle of the ice. We need to fight through some sticks and get to the scoring zone. They played a tough game off the puck.”
Brown came out looking fresh and unaffected by the two-week layoff in the opening period. The Bears had chances to get on the board, but good shotblocking from Harvard kept Grumet-Morris in control and in view of the puck. One time, Brown’s Mike Meech created a three-on-none turnover, but the Bears failed to get a good shot off through the resulting commotion.
One of Harvard’s blueliners put it on top early in the second. Junior Noah Welch stepped up with a rush and had all sorts of time to beat Danis on a rocket shot past his glove to the upper corner. Danis had made three great glove saves in the first to keep it scoreless.
The Bears responded with a goal of their own around the midway point of the second. Robinson was the beneficiary of a good forecheck, which the Bears had for much of the first and second. He sneaked a long angle shot under Grumet-Morris to create a 1-1 tie.
The Harvard power play was dangerous, going two for four. A late second-period power play gave the Crimson the lead back. Bernakevitch, Pettit, and Kolarik combined with a tic-tac-toe passing play to take a 2-1 lead.
Brown showed little life in its comeback effort. Harvard controlled most of the action in the third, and added an early goal to make it 3-1. Pettit, on an even-strength rush, got his stick on a goalmouth pass from Tom Cavanaugh, despite being pestered by a backchecker. He directed it up and over Danis for the insurance goal.
Bernakevitch put in another one to help Harvard rest easy late in the third — another power-play goal, featuring similar puck movement that culminated in finding the junior forward at the goalmouth to make it 4-1.
The Bears were hampered by untimely penalties in the third. Robinson salvaged a power play goal in the closing seconds, but the finish was not there for Brown. It was Harvard, instead, silencing a robust home crowd with opportunistic goals on Danis.
“We know first hand he’s a great goalie,” Kolarik said. “He comes with a lot of hype, and deserves all of it. All you can do is try to get as much rubber on him as you can and see what you can do.”
Facing elimination Saturday night, Brown will have to turn it around to keep a once-great season alive. Harvard will look to go to its fourth ECAC final four in a row with just one more win over the Bears.