CAMBRIDGE, Mass. — For the second night in a row, Harvard and St. Lawrence battled to the wire in one of the more physical series in recent postseasons. And once again, the Crimson managed to withstand the Saints’ relentless pressure to come away with a 3-2 win and sweep the ECACHL quarterfinal, two games to none.
With the victory, Harvard (20-8-3) advances to the ECACHL semifinals in Albany where it will play third-seeded Colgate in the late game next Friday.
“I’m proud of the guys,” said Crimson head coach Ted Donato. “They really battled. St. Lawrence is a very good team and they gave us everything we could handle. We’re very fortunate to be moving on.”
“All we asked for this weekend was not to get outworked,” said SLU head coach Joe Marsh, “and to not leave any gas in the tank. We accomplished that.
“We played as hard as we could. We just came up one short.”
St. Lawrence (17-19-2) controlled most of the action in the first period, aided by a five-minute power play awarded when Harvard rookie Dave Watters was whistled for charging SLU’s Kyle Rank at 9:09.
“We seemed to put ourselves behind the eight-ball tonight with the five-minute major and at other times,” said Donato.
The Saints, who used an aggressive forecheck to keep the Crimson trapped in their zone for the first half of the period, could not muster a quality scoring chance while on the man-advantage. SLU didn’t get a shot on goaltender Dov Grumet-Morris until half the penalty had expired and ended the power play with only three shots.
From then on it was Harvard with the advantage, launching several quality shots against Saints’ netminder Mike McKenna. The senior was up to the task, though, and finished the period with 13 saves.
The Crimson did come close to scoring on two occasions while shorthanded, however, including a Steve Mandes breakaway attempt that McKenna slid out to the right faceoff circle to stop. The second opportunity came off a two-on-one in which Harvard rookie Mike Taylor hit the post from the bottom of the left circle.
The Crimson, as they did on Friday, jumped on the board first in the middle period thanks in large part to senior Tom Cavanagh. Harvard’s leading scorer streaked down the middle of the ice and into the St. Lawrence zone, chased by two Saints. Cavanagh swing behind the net and backhanded a centering pass across the slot, where linemate Brendan Bernakevitch one-timed it by McKenna for his fifth of the season at 5:32.
Like in Game 1, the second period became a nasty affair. It started when SLU’s T.J. Trevelyan broke in on Grumet-Morris, flipped a shot into the goaltender and then drove him into the net. The junior was whistled for charging and the game’s fuse had been lit.
“The referee’s job is to referee,” said Grumet-Morris when asked his opinion about the officiating. “It’s not my job to worry about them.”
Seconds after Trevelyan’s penalty, Harvard and St. Lawrence players exchanged punches and high-sticks during play a mere foot from referee Dan Murphy without a call. On the same sequence, Crimson defenseman Dylan Reese grabbed a SLU forward around the neck and pulled him to the ground right at Murphy’s feet.
Again, no penalty.
“I thought it was horrible hockey,” Donato remarked. “It was roller derby out there for most of the second period. I thought the game deteriorated there.”
Harvard’s Noah Welch was sent off the ice for crosschecking a Saints forward behind Grumet-Morris just over two minutes later. SLU enjoyed its best pressure since the first period on the man-advantage, but it was nullified when sophomore Kyle Rank was called for slashing Grumet-Morris after a save.
“He was frustrated,” said Marsh about Rank. “He’s not usually that type of player.”
The Crimson capitalized on their opportunity at 17:47 when sophomore Kevin Du poked in a rebound during a flurry in front of McKenna. It was Du’s eighth of the season and put Harvard up 2-0 heading into the third period.
“We talk about discipline all the time,” Marsh commented. “When that happens it comes back to haunt you.”
When two Crimson defensemen were whistled for penalties 1:25 apart early in the third period, it opened the door for the Saints. SLU capitalized when senior Mike Zbriger wristed a shot through traffic from the right circle just after the first penalty had expired. For the Montreal native, it was his eighth tally on the year.
“When they scored that first goal,” Donato said, “it got their bench going.”
Harvard restored its two-goal lead at 10:43 while skating shorthanded. St. Lawrence had control of the puck deep in the offensive zone, but when a pass from the right circle up to defenseman Matt MacDonald was tipped, the Crimson were off on a two-on-one.
Sophomore Steve Mandes led the rush down the wing before passing the puck across the ice to Tyler Magura. The rookie’s shot deflected off SLU defenseman Mike Madill and eluded McKenna, who could not recover from the redirection.
“We were rusty last night,” said Magura, “but a lot of guys battled tonight. Everyone battled.”
The Saints pulled McKenna for an extra attacker at 16:25 and pulled within 3-2 two minutes later when sophomore Max Taylor slid a loose puck by a prone Grumet-Morris. It was Taylor’s 13th of the season and gave the Saints hope of a comeback.
“[We] never got to relax,” said Donato, “never felt comfortable. They kept coming and coming.”
Unfortunately, for St. Lawrence, the Saints were unable to come up with the tying marker before time ran out on the season.
“We played with a lot of energy,” said Marsh. “You’ve gotta go with four lines the way we play. It’s tough to create scoring opportunities.
“They are a good, solid defensive team.”
SLU finished the night 1-for-6 with the man-advantage, while the Crimson were 1-for-5. McKenna stopped 26 shots to Grumet-Morris’ 32.