CAMBRIDGE, Mass. — If you’re only going to get 15 shots, you’d better not waste too many of them.
Harvard made the most of its limited opportunities against visiting Rensselaer, tallying twice, then rallying around the stellar play of netminder Justin Tobe to hold onto a 2-1 victory at Bright Hockey Center.
The win, the Crimson’s sixth in seven games, propelled Harvard (7-3-1, 5-3-1 ECACHL) into sole possession of second place in the conference, while the Engineers (7-8-2, 2-5-1) dropped to 10th.
“We do have, I think, as difficult a schedule at the beginning of the season as anybody in the country, at least the east anyways,” Harvard coach Ted Donato said. “I was very happy to get the two wins this weekend, and as a team we’re looking forward.”
As against Union one night earlier, the Crimson struggled to establish itself offensively during the first five minutes, but a well-executed penalty kill followed closely by an RPI minor galvanized the Harvard attack.
Though its first power-play unit was again without Brendan Bernakevitch — sidelined by an inner-thigh contusion for the third straight game — the Crimson struck first with a man advantage. A dump-in to the left corner dug out by forward Kevin Du allowed the Crimson to establish its presence in the Engineers’ zone and his pass to blueliner Dylan Reese between the circles knocked RPI back on its heels.
He fed center Charlie Johnson at the right circle, where he unleashed a one-timer that deflected off a defenseman’s stick and beat Jordan Alford high glove-side at 8:53.
“We broke into the power play pretty easily there,” Johnson said. “[Reese] had a chance to shoot, [but] the guy was kinda in the lane there, so he fed it off to me. I just tried to get it away as quickly as possible.”
Quickly-closing avenues like the one Reese saw were commonplace for the Crimson, as RPI blocked 18 shots and made several saves well before the puck reached Alford’s net. Alford had 13 saves on the night.
Still, after 20 minutes of back-and-forth physical play, Du corralled the puck in the Harvard zone and fired a pass to forward Ryan Maki, who sprinted down the right side of the ice. Maki faked a pass to blueliner Tom Walsh, then dumped the puck off to defenseman Ryan Lannon.
He maneuvered past the defense and slipped the puck between Alford’s legs at 9:27 for the eventual game-winner.
Tobe, the Crimson’s backup netminder who has now started and come out on top twice in the team’s last four games, allowed one shot to slip past him, but more than compensated with several spectacular saves to preserve the win.
With less than five minutes to play in the second, forward Kevin Croxton broke out of the RPI zone with defenseman Brad Farynuk in tow. The pair raced in on the Crimson goal 2-on-1, with Croxton carrying the whole way and ultimately whipping a shot on Tobe’s net. Tobe deflected the puck just wide, but Farynuk controlled the rebound.
As Harvard hastened to move into position, Farynuk found blueliner Blake Pickett in the slot, who quickly shoveled the puck to forward Nick Economakos. With ample room, he wristed an attempt that slipped through Tobe’s five-hole to pull the Engineers within one with 4:24 left in the second.
“Obviously the guy had time,” Tobe said. “But I’ve got to make that save. I can’t have a first shot beat me like that.”
Tobe more than made up for it, turning away a pair of point-blank efforts in the final 22:15.
With 2:15 left in the second, center Kirk MacDonald took a feed on Tobe’s right post, faked, then attempted to flip the puck gently over the goaltender and in. Sprawling backward, Tobe batted the shot away with his stick from his back to allow the Crimson to escape to intermission with the lead intact.
And though Harvard dominated play for much of the third period, particularly when on the power play — though the Crimson converted just one of its four 5-on-4s and was credited with just two shots — RPI mustered one last rush that threatened to send the contest into overtime.
With just over 90 seconds remaining, MacDonald took a cross-crease feed at the far post and appeared to have Tobe beaten, but the netminder dashed across the goalmouth to record a pad save.
“I saw the guy backdoor so I had a pretty quick reaction to it,” said Tobe, who had 25 saves. “It’s just another save you’ve got to make sometimes. It’ll make up for the bad goal in the second, I guess.”
Donato was less reserved with his praise of his netminder.
“I can’t say enough about the save he made at the end of the game. It was spectacular,” Donato said. “He gave us a chance to win and he deserves a lot of credit.”