CAMBRIDGE, Mass. — There were two prominent streaks in progress when Harvard hosted St. Lawrence at the Bright Hockey Center for the start of the second round of the ECACHL playoffs, and neither looked promising for the Saints (21-15-2).
Over its last 13 games against St. Lawrence, Harvard (17-11-2) had amassed a record of 10-1-2, a mark which included a 2-0 series victory over the Saints in last year’s ECACHL playoffs. And over the past 13 playoff games at the Bright Hockey Center, the Crimson had compiled an even more impressive 12-1-0 record.
Both of those streaks came to an end tonight, as St. Lawrence dominated the Crimson in the first period and jumped out to an early 2-0 lead. Though Harvard rallied somewhat to make the game momentarily respectable, St. Lawrence cruised to a 5-1 victory and a 1-0 lead in the teams’ best-of-three playoff series.
“We’ve struggled to scores goals in here, and we had a couple of nice goals [tonight],” said St. Lawrence coach Joe Marsh. “[Kevin] DeVergilio had a couple of beauties, and certainly that was a great individual effort on the first one.”
DeVergilio scored the first of his two goals at 4:31 of the opening period while St. Lawrence was on the power play. He made a pretty move to pull around a Harvard defender, skated in a few steps and rifled a hard shot from the right face-off circle that produced a sharp ‘clang’ when it impact with the back post of the goal.
With a 1-0 lead, the Saints continued to pour pressure on Harvard through the remainder of the first period. Just over 10 minutes later, St. Lawrence sophomore forward Charlie Griffin skated into traffic between the two face-off circles and managed to control the puck long enough to send it on net. Amidst the traffic between the circle and the scrum in front of his crease, Harvard netminder John Daigneau missed the puck as it passed by low and to his stick side.
Griffin’s goal gave the Saints at 2-0 advantage after the first period, a period which saw them control the puck in Harvard’s zone for the majority of play and where the Saints limited the Crimson to only four shots on net.
“We didn’t come out and have the work ethic that we needed,” said Harvard captain Peter Hafner. “For one reason or another they seemed to want it more in the first period. I don’t know why, I don’t think the layoff had anything to do with it.”
“I was pretty much shocked at the way we came out and started that game, knowing how important it is,” he continued. “Maybe guys are already thinking about all that NCAA talk, but frankly it was embarrassing the way we came out and started that game.”
“We were lucky it was only 2-0,” he added.
The second period was more evenly matched than the first, both in puck possession and shots on net, thanks in part to three Harvard power plays. With the Crimson trying desperately to overcome its unenthusiastic start, the power-play opportunities in the second represented a chance to turn the game around. But St. Lawrence netminder Justin Pesony was up to the challenge, turning away six of Harvard’s nine second period shots while his team was killing off penalties.
“Pesony made some big big saves,” said Marsh. “They had a couple of great bids off the back door on the power play. Those [saves] were crucial.”
“Pesony made a couple of huge saves when they needed him,” agreed Donato.
The Saints needed him even more in the third, as Harvard finally managed to get some quality scoring chances in an even-strength situation; Pesony was equal to the challenge, and turned back 18 of 19 shots during the final frame.
Harvard finally broke onto the scoreboard midway through the third period when junior forward Ryan Maki batted a fluttering puck past Pesony to cut the St. Lawrence lead to 3-1. The Harvard players and the crowd were energized by the score, but the Saints responded swiftly when junior center Kyle Rank intercepted a turnover by Harvard defenseman Dylan Reese; the turnover created an unbelievable breakaway opportunity and Rank outmaneuvered Daigneau to restore his team’s three-goal lead.
St. Lawrence added an empty-net goal at 17:48 to reach the 5-1 margin of victory.
“St. Lawrence outplayed us for most of the night, and certainly in the first period,” Donato said. “There is no doubt that they were the hungrier team.”
“It wasn’t an X-and-O’s scenario after the first period, it was more of a willingness to compete,” he said. “We lost battles on the puck, we lost races to the puck-we didn’t look like we were ready to play, nor ready to compete.”
“When you play good teams,” he added, “its tough to play from behind and you can’t expect to be on the winning side when there is twenty minutes when you’re not prepared to play.”
The two teams will meet again tomorrow night at 7:00 p.m. at the Bright Hockey Center for the second game of a best-of-three ECACHL playoff series. If Harvard wins tomorrow night, the decisive third game would take place Sunday at 7:00 p.m.