CAMBRIDGE, Mass. — What a difference a year makes.
Last March, Harvard began its run to Albany as a sixth seed, needing to host a first round series and travel to Brown for the quarterfinals. This season the route to a return trip to New York’s Capital Region will be a little different after securing a first-round bye with a 5-2 victory over St. Lawrence in front of 2,776 fans at the Bright Hockey Center.
“We want the bye,” said sophomore Ryan Maki. “But we [were] ready to go either way. We’ll take whatever we can get.”
The Crimson (17-7-2, 14-4-1 ECACHL) get a weekend off thanks in large part to the play of Maki and his linemates, seniors Tom Cavanagh and Brendan Bernakevitch.
“We played well,” explained Maki. “Cavanagh and Bernakevitch, especially, played really well tonight. We got a lot of chances because of that.
“It seemed like I didn’t have to do a lot. They were excellent.”
For the second night in a row, Harvard had the edge on the shot chart in the game’s opening 20 minutes, besting St. Lawrence 15-10.
“We had a lot of unforced turnovers,” admitted Saints’ coach Joe Marsh. “You can’t do that against a team that likes having the puck on their sticks so much.”
The Crimson took a 1-0 lead when defenseman Tom Walsh flipped a shot from the right point that found Cavanagh’s stick in the slot for a redirection over the left shoulder of netminder Mike McKenna. It was Cavanagh’s eighth goal of the season, but only his first since a January 29 tally against Yale.
“I thought he was exceptional,” said Harvard coach Ted Donato. “It was a great tip. He did a lot of things on the ice aside from scoring.”
The Warwick, R.I., native has struggled to score this year after notching 30 goals over the past two seasons.
“It was nice,” said Cavanagh about finally getting back on the scoreboard. “More importantly, it was nice to start off the game with the lead.”
Much like Friday, Harvard again had a dominating second period, scoring three goals in the first 12 minutes. The production began just 2:46 into the stanza when junior defenseman Peter Hafner’s shot from the left point deflected off a Saints player and by McKenna for his second of the season.
Less than a minute later, Maki got into the act, putting the Crimson up 3-0, when he backhanded a loose puck into the net from the bottom of the right faceoff circle for the eventual game-winner.
“We’re not going to score goals unless we crash the net,” he said. “Everyone was working hard to get in there.”
St. Lawrence (14-16-2, 8-11-1) pulled to within two with a goal at 6:27 — just three seconds after its second power play of the game had expired. Junior T.J. Trevelyan centered the puck from the left circle to a waiting Mike Zbriger in the slot. The senior spun around and whipped the puck into the far corner, beating Harvard netminder Dov Grumet-Morris for his fifth of the season.
“It can get away from you here,” said Marsh about playing in Harvard’s home rink, “[and] you just want to wait in the parking lot, but [tonight] we battled hard.”
The goal also snapped Grumet-Morris’ ECACHL shutout streak that dated back to the Crimson’s win over Dartmouth after 193:55 of stingy play.
Harvard responded, however, with its fourth marker of the game at 11:58 when sophomore Kevin Du’s shot from the left circle eluded McKenna. It was Du’s seventh of the year and second in as many nights.
“That goal was a killer,” said Marsh.
The Saints did manage to put a scare into the Crimson midway through the third period when SLU made it 4-2. After a flurry of activity in front of Grumet-Morris, the puck bounced free into the slot where Harvard senior Andrew Lederman scooped it up. But before he could do anything with the disc, Zbriger swooped in and chopped the puck off Lederman’s blade and into an open left side of the net.
“Zbriger has been a big player for us in the second half of the season coming off injuries,” said Marsh.
Try as they might, however, the Saints could get no closer.
Marsh pulled McKenna with two and a half minutes left in the game, but the Crimson’s Dan Murphy scored into an empty net.
“They are very good with the puck,” said Marsh. “They are very good with the lead. We would have three or four good shifts and then three or four where we’d be pinned in.
“We need to try to get some consistency heading into the playoffs.”
The Saints finished the contest 0-for-5 on the power play, while the Crimson went 0-for-4. McKenna posted 37 saves to Grumet-Morris’ 30.
St. Lawrence wraps up the regular season next weekend with home games against Cornell and Colgate. Harvard takes on Brown Tuesday before traveling to Dartmouth and Vermont.