CAMBRIDGE, Mass. — A night removed from a lackluster performance that captain Peter Hafner termed “shocking” and “embarrassing,” the Harvard Crimson (18-11-2) responded to the pressure of facing playoff elimination with an inspired first-period effort and two third-period goals to post a come-from-behind 3-2 win over St. Lawrence (21-16-2). Harvard’s victory tied the teams’ playoff series at one game apiece, and it sets up a decisive game three for Sunday evening.
Harvard came out with an edge in the first period, peppering St. Lawrence with 17 shots and, in turn, allowing the Saints only five shots. That was in stark contract to the opening period in game one, in which St. Lawrence dominated Harvard and allowed only four shots on net in the first 20 minutes.
“In the first period, I thought we came out with a purpose and really battled,” said Harvard coach Ted Donato.
“They were coming at us pretty hard,” agreed St. Lawrence coach Joe Marsh. “They had great jump all night.”
Harvard’s lone first-period goal came on its only power play of the night. After several foiled attempts to set up in the Saint Lawrence zone, the Crimson worked the puck in and managed to keep it there. Forward Paul Dufault battled for control of the puck along the low boards, managed to gain a little breathing room and fired a pass across ice to defenseman Tom Walsh. Walsh took the pass at the blue line, took a few quick steps to his left and sent a sharp wrist shot that passed St. Lawrence goaltender Justin Pesony low on his glove side. That goal came at 11:00 of the first, and though the Crimson had more than a few scoring chances, the score after one period had Harvard leading, 1-0.
“The first period they really took it to us, and I think we were fortunate to only be down, 1-0,” Marsh said.
“I liked our response in the second,” he continued. “We were able to score right away, and we worked hard to create some momentum and give ourselves the opportunity to score that second goal.”
The Saints first goal came on their initial power play after Harvard forward Jon Pelle was whistled for contact to the head, roughing after the first period had already ended. On the ensuing power play, St. Lawrence captain Mike Madill was stationed at the point when he received a pass from leading scorer T.J. Trevelyan down on the left side boards. Madill lined up for a slapshot, drew Harvard defenseman Jack Christian out in an attempt to block the shot, and then fired an excellent pass across to Chase Trull at the back door. Harvard goaltender John Daigneau couldn’t slide across the crease in time and Trull easily tapped home the game-tying goal 51 seconds in the middle period.
“I wasn’t particularly pleased with the penalty at the 20 minute mark,” Donato said. “It puts them on the power play with a fresh sheet of ice. When you’re in big games like this and your back is against the wall, you just can’t afford to give teams like that an easy opportunity.”
Having converted on their power-play opportunity, the Saints regained some confidence and built up momentum. They limited Harvard to a mere three shots in the period while sending 14 of their own at Daigneau, who managed 12 saves in the second. The other puck that Daigneau could not corral was a bullet of a shot from Madill; it came at 13:06 of the second from atop the right face-off circle, and resounded with a sharp clang off the back pipe.
Down, 2-1, and faced with the likely end to its season if the score did not change, the Crimson rebounded from its sub par second to re-assert control of the game in the third. Harvard tied the game at 2-2 not quite one minute into the final period when Ryan Maki made a great individual effort. After receiving a pass from linemate Kevin Du, he worked the puck behind the net and off the boards, and fired a hard, odd-angle shot from the bottom left-hand side of the left face-off circle that beat Pesony clean.
The score remained tied at 2-2 for more than 15 minutes as the teams alternated quality scoring chances. Daigneau made 12 important stops in the third, and Pesony came up with a huge pad save off a shot from Tyler Magura during a two-on-one Harvard breakaway at 12:55.
Pesony was unable to stop the game winner less than five minutes later, though. Dufault passed the puck to defenseman Dylan Reese near the blue line. Reese moved in and lined up a shot on net, but his bid was deflected up into the air. The puck fluttered for what seemed like six seconds before falling to the ice within easy reach of Harvard’s Dave Watters. Watters sent a low wrister on net, Pesony was unable to find the puck through a screen, and Harvard got the game-winning goal with just under two and a half minutes remaining.
“I thought our guys really responded in the third period and refused to be denied,” said Donato. “I’m very proud of our effort.”
The series will be decided at 7:00 p.m. Sunday night in the Bright Hockey Center. The winner will advance to the semifinals of the ECACHL Tournament in Albany, while the losing team will be knocked out the ECACHL Tournament and possibly postseason play in the NCAA Tournament.