CANTON, N.Y. — Just like the first two games of the Brown-St. Lawrence ECACHL quarterfinal series, one team jumped out to a 3-0 lead. But the difference today was that the team falling behind came back, making for a back-and-forth decisive Game Three the way it should be.
St. Lawrence (26-6-5) still managed to pull away and win 5-2 after seeing its 3-0 lead narrowed to one by resilient Brown (15-15-2). The Saints’ win advanced them to a date with Dartmouth in the ECAC semifinals for the second straight year.
“I give them so much credit for battling back when down 3-0 and with one foot on the bus already,” said St. Lawrence coach Paul Flanagan. “They have no quit in them. When you’re in a North Country hotel room for three nights, boredom hits in. The mental fatigue was definitely tougher for them, and you’ve got to give them credit for fighting through it all.”
The Saints came out of the gate with the same intensity they had the previous two games, and this time they saw a quick result from their efforts. Only 34 seconds in, captain Rebecca Russell poked home a rebound off a seemingly harmless shot by Chelsea Grills.
Brown dug a deeper hole for itself by taking six of the game’s first seven penalties, and the Saints cashed in with two power play goals to extend their lead to 3-0.
On the Saints’ second power play of the day, O’Hara Shipe made the save of the day when she lunged across the goal mouth and batted a puck out of midair with her stick to avert what had looked like an easy put-back for Grills off a Russell shot. But the save went for naught as Grills corralled the puck in the corner and fired a pass to Harbec, who was ready for a backdoor tap-in and a 2-0 Saints lead 8:51 into the game.
“Our team thrives off of getting the early lead,” said Saints coach Paul Flanagan. “They kept their feet moving and were able to draw penalties. In critical situations like that you’ve got to bury one or two and make the best of your chances. That’s what [Brown] did to us on Friday.”
Brown came out sharp in the second period, but an early penalty shifted the momentum back to the Saints. On the ensuing power play junior defenseman Kate Michael fired a slap shot from the blue line into the net’s top left corner past a heavily screened Shipe at 2:19 for the 3-0 lead.
“All I was thinking about was getting the puck off the ice and not hitting any shin guards because I had a number of shots blocked in the first period,” said Michael of her eventual game winner.
In case the Saints were becoming content, the Bears shot them a reminder that they weren’t backing down. Just 19 seconds after the Saints goal, Brown freshman Emilie Bydwell netted her first career goal by putting home the loose puck after a scramble in front.
At 11:59 of the second, Brown senior standout Jessica Link scored her second goal of the series. After Link won a faceoff and walked right in, Saints goalie Jessica Moffat’s errant poke check missed the puck, and Link backhanded the puck passed the sprawled netminder.
“I was really proud of them today, they really played like a team, and the freshman stepped up big time when we were down three,” said Brown coach Digit Murphy.
With the score at 3-2, the Saints made it clear they weren’t going to let their lead evaporate. Crystal Connors swiped home a slap pass from Abbie Bullard from the point the just snuck by Shipe’s glove to give the Saints a 4-2 lead heading into the third.
The first scoring chance of the third went to Brown, when Myria Heinhuis fired a slap shot on net that Glennon tried to redirect through Moffat’s legs, but she made a spectacular save of the quick redirection to keep the Saints’ lead at two goals.
“She made some really key saves when we were struggling,” Michael said of her goaltender. “We were on our heels and she stood up strong right when we needed her to”
The Bears started to swing the momentum their way early in the third period, but the Saints answered with a goal of their own to ice the game.
At 7:30 of the third period, Harbec picked up a loose puck after a Brown defender separated it from Emilie Berlinguette. She squeezed a shot by Shipe for the 5-2 lead.
“Harbec really had a great freshman year, and I would say these last two games were her best of the season,” Russell said. “She really stepped up her game and was really clutch.”
Brown, whose NCAA hopes rested on winning the ECACHL tournament, was left wondering what might have been.
“Fatigue was a big a factor for our squad,” Murphy said. “We absolutely didn’t match their energy level today. We should have won yesterday, we had the ability but we didn’t match their energy.”
With 1:58 remaining in regulation, Brown called timeout and both teams had the opportunity to put all their seniors on the ice at once. The Saints put out senior forwards, Russell, Kristin Powers and Whitney Carbone and replaced Moffat with senior goalie Lea Armendariz.
Carbone had an excellent opportunity to put home a sentimental sixth goal off a superb pass by Russell, but the puck deflected off Shipe, then the post, and out of harms way.
“The hockey gods were looking over us and we had the opportunity to put all our seniors out there with the lead,” Flanagan said. “They are a classy group of kids and [Carbone] got a great chance that would have made it even more special.”