CANTON, N.Y. — No. 2 St. Lawrence began its quest for its first ECACHL postseason title with a 6-3 victory over Yale. Some may have already penciled the home side into the second round of the tournament. However, Yale had a lot to say about that in a back and forth game marred by sloppy play.
Yale (11-14-5, 8-8-4 ECACHL) silenced Appleton Arena just 45 seconds into the contest when the rebound from a Nina Resor shot wound up on the stick of teammate Kelsey Johnson. She shot the puck into the empty net on a defensive lapse to give Yale the very early lead against the host Saints (29-3-2, 16-2-2).
The Saints defensive unit, one of the best in the nation, looked to quickly make up for this early blunder and did one better. Just 1:19 after Yale took the lead, Saints defender Kate Michael slapped home a power play goal from the right faceoff circle past Bulldogs goalie Sarah Love’s glove to tie the affair. Just 63 seconds after the Michael’s goal, another Saints defender Annie Guay rifled a slap shot from just inside the blue line past a screened Love, stick side, to put the Saints on top 2-1 just 3:07 into the game.
“The style they play is a little more passive than we usually play against,” said Michael, the SLU captain. “Coach Flanagan told the defenders that we would have more time at the point, and to try to fake a shot and skate the puck in.”
That was all the action Love would see on the day as she was lifted in favor of Shivon Zilis.
“Those goals don’t go in on Sarah Love” said Bulldogs coach Hilary Witt. “The kids were starting to say ‘Oh no!’ so I made the change to go ahead and put Shivon in there.”
Saints forward Emilie Berlinguette, promptly welcomed Zilis by beating her low glove side. She beat a Bulldogs defender for the puck in the corner, skated to the net and fired a quick wrist shot.
The Bulldogs showed poise and composure in cutting the Saints’ lead to 3-2 just before the halfway mark of the first period. Saints goaltender Meaghan Guckian slid outside the crease to stop a Bulldogs shot, but in all the action she lost track of where the puck was headed. Bulldogs forward Deena Caplette capitalized on this mistake and slid the puck under Guckian as she sprawled back towards the net.
The goal marked the first time all season the Saints have surrendered two goals in the first period.
“We expected them to do what they did,” Flanagan said. “It was a good wake up call, they play a good trap, and we made a lot of unforced errors. They caught a few breaks and capitalized on them.”
After seeing five goals scored in the first nine minutes of the game, it looked like this was going to be a high-scoring shootout, but the next goal would not come for another 35 minutes as neither of the two sides got into much of a flow during that span.
“I’m disappointed with the way we played, we skated over lots of loose pucks, went into the corners with only one hand on the stick,” Flanagan said. “We were up 3-1 and maybe our players were thinking it will be easy, and they got right back in it.”
In the third period the Saints eventually regained that two-goal cushion, again it was Berlinguette who did the honors. Berlinguette brought the puck into the zone down the right wing, where she fought off a Bulldog defender into the corner and around the back of the net. The puck got caught in the skates of the Bulldog defender and Berlinguette picked it up, wrapped around the net and slid the puck through the legs of Zilis for the 4-2 lead.
The Saints put the game out of reach with a power play goal at the 10:01 mark of the third when freshman Carson Duggan slid home a rebound that was sitting on the edge of the crease passed a stretched out Zilis.
Kate Michael added her second power play goal of the game with just under four minutes to play, when she faked a shot from the point, skirted around the Bulldogs defense and powered a wrist shot into the top left corner of the net, again from the right faceoff circle. This two-goal output was Michael’s first in four years.
“It was nice to see our second power play line producing,” Flanagan said. “Kate Michael has been such a warrior, she plays great heads-up hockey, and tonight the two goals she scored were great scorers goals. She showed great patience to let the play develop. It was very pleasing.”
“It means a lot if we can get all three lines scoring,” Michael said. “The other team can try to take one line out, but they can’t shut down every line, that should take us far.”
There was never any quit from the Bulldogs, who were within a goal of the Saints for more than two-thirds of the game. They closed the final margin to 6-3 on a Kristen Stupay goal with 45-seconds left to play, but more importantly they left a clear statement that they were not going to roll over and let the Saints skate through to the next round.
“I don’t think I was surprised we played how we did,” Witt said. “Shivon played unbelievably in net, St. Lawrence just has great poise and skills that we ultimately couldn’t overcome.”
Game Two of the best of three series is Saturday at Appleton starting at 2 p.m. A Saints victory would put them in the ECACHL semifinals that they would host.