TROY, N.Y. — For the second night in a row, the Rensselaer Engineers found themselves playing comeback hockey against Quinnipiac. And for the second time in as many nights, they couldn’t draw even. The Bobcats grabbed a two-goal lead in the first period and weathered a late RPI storm to complete a first-round sweep, 4-2.
RPI struck first when Engineer Oren Eizenman scored a power play goal just 41 seconds in. A point shot deflected to him in the slot, and he fired it over goalie Bud Fisher.
The Bobcats, though, held on and responded.
“I was very impressed with RPI’s intensity out of the gate,” said Bobcats head coach Rand Pecknold. “Their backs were to the wall and they got that early goal. We responded well.”
Despite falling behind early, Quinnipiac got three goals in the first period-two on the power play-and a momentum-killing tally late in the second, just 1:28 after RPI drew within one, to take game two of the series and advance.
With the Bobcats holding a 3-1 lead in the second period, Kevin Broad scored for RPI at 15:23 to halve the lead. He used a Quinnipiac defenseman as a screen and fired a shot that deflected up over Fisher’s shoulder.
At 16:51, the Bobcats’ John Kelly stole the puck in the neutral zone and crossed the blue line along the right wing. His quick wrister beat RPI goalie Mathias Lange and defused the Engineer comeback effort.
“It was tough because we had all the momentum after Kevin scored to make it 3-2,” said RPI head coach Dan Fridgen. “I felt good on the bench, I think the guys felt real good, and the guy snaps one in. That game of comeback hockey is a tough game to play, especially when it’s two goals.”
Ben Nelson tied the game at 4:50 of the first. Quinnipiac showed off some deft passing skill on the power play. Brian Leitch sent the puck from the right-wing corner to the faceoff circle, where Jamie Bates delivered a one-touch pass to the other side of the ice, right to Nelson’s tape. His one-timer was true and Lange had no chance of getting over to make the save.
A point shot from Reid Cashman trickled under Lange’s legs to give Quinnipiac the lead at 13:55 of the first, with the Bobcats on a 5-on-3. They doubled the lead later in the period on a defensive-zone turnover. An Engineer coughed up the puck in his own end right to Leitch. Leitch set Bates up with a perfect cross-ice pass, which Bates buried.
The Engineers had a number of scoring chances in the third period, but Fisher was there to deny them all. He made a fast glove save on a wraparound chance that Eizenman sent to the top shelf. Engineer captain Kevin Croxton had a shorthanded bid late in the third. He put a move on a Bobcat defender and got by him, but Fisher stopped his quick wrist shot.
“I have no doubt in my mind that we left everything we had out there,” said Croxton. “For every shift, everybody went as hard as they could.”
Fisher also made several saves on point shots that he saw through traffic and held on to, denying any rebound chances.
“The guys were ready to play,” said Pecknold. “We felt confident coming into the weekend that we could win this series. We felt confident that maybe-maybe-we had a shot at a sweep. We took it one game at a time.”
Fisher finished with 33 saves, and Lange only had 14. With the series win, Quinnipiac advances to next weekend’s ECACHL quarterfinals. RPI’s season, on the other hand, comes to a close.
“It’s always a difficult situation when a season ends,” said Fridgen. “I thought we put it all out on the line. It seemed that when we made a mistake, we paid for that mistake.”
“I can’t explain how the littlest mistake would end up as a goal and yet, when they made the mistakes, we just weren’t able to capitalize at the right time,” he added.
RPI finishes the season with a record of 14-17-6, and the Bobcats improve to 19-16-1 with at least another weekend left to play.