CAMBRIDGE, Mass. — After a blowout on Friday evening and a nailbiter on Saturday, the Harvard Crimson (19-11-2) and the St. Lawrence Saints (21-17-2) met at the Bright Hockey Center for the deciding game of their ECACHL quarterfinal series Sunday, where the Crimson took an 8-4 win to advance to the ECACHL championships in Albany, N.Y.
From the drop of the puck, it looked as though a long night was in store for the St. Lawrence faithful. Harvard’s Dave Watters scored the first of his two goals a mere 25 seconds after the opening whistle; Watters, after receiving a nice feed from linemate Jon Pelle, put home a point-blank shot from his perch atop the crease to give Harvard the early advantage.
“It was definitely real important to get that first goal and to really start well in the first period,” said Harvard captain Peter Hafner. “The last two nights, the first period has really dictated the game. In the first game they really took it to us in the first period … and the same with us last night. So we wanted to really concentrate on coming out strong.”
Harvard continued to attack the Saints, and the team again found the back of the net four minutes later. Senior forward Dan Murphy tallied the first of his three goals at 4:38, just after the expiration of a St. Lawrence penalty.
Defenseman Brian McCafferty worked the puck off the lower left boards and passed back to Murphy near the top of the left faceoff circle, and Murphy released a snipe from the point to give Harvard the 2-0 lead.
The next goal marked the game’s turning point, according to both St. Lawrence coach Joe Marsh and Harvard coach Ted Donato.
With Watters in the penalty box for hooking, the Saints began a power play and tried to set up in the Harvard zone. A pass was mishandled along the blue line, and Harvard forward Steve Mandes swept up the rebound and raced down ice on the break.
He cut in hard towards the net and fired a shot that St. Lawrence netminder Justin Pesony stopped but could not corral. Tyler Magura followed Mandes on net, scooped up the rebound and fired it around Pesony for Harvard’s first short-handed goal of the season at 11:10 of the first.
That score gave Harvard a commanding 3-0 lead before the Saints had a chance to make their mark on the scoreboard.
“It was huge [to get the shorthanded goal],” Donato said. “It gave us a huge boost to be able to turnaround the shorthanded situation.
“It was definitely a turning point.”
“That put us behind the eight-ball, all right,” agreed Marsh. “When you play catch-up hockey, it’s not very often winning hockey, that’s for sure.”.
The Saints played catch-up all night, pulling within two at 3-1 late in the first and then responding midway through the second period to Harvard’s fourth goal to again get within two.
From that point, though, Harvard rolled off four unanswered goals, including two more from Murphy as part of his first career hat trick. St. Lawrence added two power-play goals in the third, but was unable to pull any closer and the final score was 8-4 in favor of Harvard.
With the win, Harvard advances to the semifinals for the fifth straight season. The Crimson will face top-seeded Dartmouth on Friday at 4:30 p.m. from the Pepsi Arena.
Sunday’s loss eliminated St. Lawrence from the ECACHL tournament and effectively ended the Saints’ season, since the team is too low in the PairWise Rankings to qualify for an at-large berth to the NCAA tournament.