PRINCETON, N.J. — Princeton University continued its winning ways and headed into next week’s ECAC Hockey League playoffs with a 4-1 victory over No. 14 St. Lawrence University Saturday before a matinee gathering of 2,007 at Hobey Baker Rink.
The host Tigers, who have now won four of their last five outings, finished the regular season in sixth place overall and with a 3-1 mark against SLU and Clarkson, the top two teams in the league this year.
The visiting Saints saw their six-game winning streak come to a close after earning their second regular-season league title ever with Friday’s 4-1 win at No. 20 Quinnipiac.
“You’ve got to give them credit,” said St. Lawrence Head Coach Joe Marsh afterwards about the Tigers. “They played possessed and did a great job on their penalty kills. They forced turnovers, and we couldn’t get much going.”
Freshman forward Cam MacIntyre tallied the game-winning goal early in the third period after the Tigers had killed off a five-minute major penalty that spanned the second and third stanzas. Senior wing Kevin Westgarth registered two assists, and senior netminder B.J Sklapsky finished with 20 saves to improve to 5-3-1 on the season, while SLU freshman netminder Alex Petizian, who made 28 stops, fell to 16-7-1.
Princeton also went 2-for-9 on the power play and blanked the Saints on all eight of their man-advantage opportunities, while outshooting SLU by a 32-21 margin.
“It’s a reflection of how our team has played,” said Westgarth, who set up the game-winner with his work along the boards. “We needed one win this weekend to cement home ice. We wanted to continue that tonight, and did it in fine fashion.”
It was the Saints who struck first as junior wing Charlie Giffin put the puck past Sklapsky just 47 seconds into the contest, his eighth goal of the year, with Derek Keller and Kyle Rank assisting. Princeton then killed off an interference penalty to senior captain Darroll Powe at 1:17, before coming up blank on a hooking minor to SLU sophomore defender Shawn Fensel at 2:59.
The Tigers (13-13-3, 10-10-2 ECACHL) finally struck on their second power play, after Saints senior forward Max Taylor was sent off for roughing at 6:57. Junior blueliner Mike Moore took a feed from the right point from senior Grant Goeckner-Zoeller, and Moore’s wrister through a partial screen beat Petizian over the glove at 8:36 to make it a 1-1 game.
Westgarth, who had two goals and three assists in last night’s 7-1 conquest of No. 6 Clarkson, picked up the other assist on the play, Moore’s fourth goal of the campaign.
Princeton sophomore forward Brett Wilson was whistled for hooking at 12:37, and Saints junior defenseman Matt Generous, a Buffalo Sabres draftee, just missed the left post with his low-level blast from the right point with 10 seconds remaining in the man advantage.
The Tigers then earned another extra-man opportunity with 3:29 left when SLU freshman forward Alex Curran was banished for boarding, but couldn’t generate a sustained attack before the two minutes expired.
Saints freshman center Travis Vermeulen kicked a centering feed from behind the net towards the goal with six seconds left, but couldn’t get his stick on the puck for another try before the horn sounded.
St. Lawrence (20-12-2, 16-5-1 ECACHL) then had to weather back-to-back-to-back Princeton power-plays to start the second stanza, as junior winger Mark Wallmann was penalized for hooking at 2:45 and freshman center Jeremiah Cunningham was charged with high-sticking at 5:40.
A minor for obstruction interference to junior wing Jordan Hack was then called at 8:12, but the Saints managed to kill off all three infractions.
Princeton rushed the SLU net with all three forwards with 8:46 left in the period, but senior forward Christian Read couldn’t redirect the puck inside the right post.
Powe was then sent off for goaltender interference at 11:35 as he tumbled into Petizian, and then his teammates had to endure a five-minute SLU power play as Powe was charged with hitting from behind at 18:15 of the middle session, after crunching Saints sophomore wing Brock McBride in the right corner of the St. Lawrence defensive zone.
Powe was done for the day, as he was also tabbed with a game misconduct, but McBride returned to action in the third period and nearly pushed a loose puck past Sklapsky at the right post with just 33 seconds left in the extended power play.
Princeton finished off the remainder of the five-minute major, and then took its first lead of the afternoon when MacIntyre’s quick shot beat Petizian between the pads at 3:58. The goal, MacIntyre’s eighth of the winter, was set up by Westgarth, who notched his seventh point of the weekend, and fellow rookie Mark Magnowski.
“We got a very good dump into the corner, and I out muscled their guy down low,” recalled Westgarth, who has had four multiple-point contests this season. “I’ve been working on controlling the puck, and then Mac got open in the slot. He was ready, and he did the rest.”
Taylor tried to beat Sklapsky up high on the stick side from the left circle with 14:04 left, but the goaltender made the stop and then covered up the rebound.
Fensel was sent off for tripping at 9:34, and just under a minute later Wallmann raced shorthanded down the right wing on a partial break, but his attempted pass to an onrushing teammate coming down the slot glanced off the skate of Tigers senior blueliner Brett Westgarth and bounded away.
Wallmann then sat out two minutes himself as he was caught for holding at 13:02, but the Saints received a short power play of their own when Moore was called for checking from behind at 13:45.
The penalty box parade continued as SLU sophomore defenseman Jared Ross was hit with both a tripping minor and a 10-minute misconduct at 15:04, followed by Princeton rookie defender Jody Pederson, who was sent off at 15:15 for obstruction interference.
The Saints then enjoyed short 4-on-3 and 5-on-4 opportunities, with their best chance coming with 3:39 remaining in regulation when sophomore wing Kevin DeVergilio chipped a rebound up and over the right post.
Petizian then made big saves on MacIntyre, Lee Jubinville and Goeckner-Zoeller, but couldn’t stop Magnowski’s wrister from the left circle at 19:01 on a power play that put the Tigers up by a 3-1 count, with Daryl Marcoux and Wilson garnering assists on Magnowski’s ninth score of the season.
Sklapsky then robbed DeVergilio from the right side with 32 seconds left, rolling over to make a spectacular glove save, before Wilson hit an empty St. Lawrence net with six seconds left following a face-off in the Princeton zone, sealing the victory with his sixth goal of the campaign.
Today’s game marked the final regular-season home appearance for Princeton’s nine-man senior class of the Westgarths, Sklapsky, Powe, Read, Marcoux, Goeckner-Zoeller, Max Cousins and B.J. Mackasey.
The Tigers will now host an ECACHL first-round playoff series for the first time since 1999, and will entertain Brown in a best-of-three series next weekend. Princeton earned a win and a tie in its two meetings with the Bears this year, with both games going into overtime.
“I don’t care who we play, but I want to get better this week,” said third-year Princeton head coach Guy Gadowsky shortly after the final horn. “I want us to have a great week of practice, and hopefully we’ll be better on Friday than today.”
That’s not to say he wasn’t pleased with their effort against St. Lawrence, particularly in how his team took the lead after killing off what could have been a devastating penalty.
“We killed off the five-minute power play and then we stepped it up a bit,” said Gadowsky. “We got most of our shots (18) today in the third period, and it was a nice injection of momentum.”
Snuffing eight SLU power plays was also a key, one night after the Tigers starved seven of eight Clarkson man-up chances.
“We focused on our penalty kill after Christmas,” said Gadowsky. “Our penalty-killing percentage has slowly risen since then, and tonight we did an excellent job.”
Gadowsky also admitted that playing at home during the playoffs next week will help.
“Yes it does,” he said. “It will be real nice. We’re very happy playing here at Hobey Baker Rink. Our team has worked hard for it, and is very deserving.”
“They’ve proven they’re a dangerous team, and they’re capable of winning this thing,” he said. He also mentioned that there is a “boatload” of other squads capable of claiming the ECACHL playoffs, which will culminate in Albany, N.Y. on March 16-17.
St. Lawrence will now wait for a first-round ECACHL survivor to visit Appleton Arena on March 9-11 in Canton, N.Y., where the Saints have won their last six outings.
“We’ve got a chance now to regroup, and this can be a good lesson for us,” said Marsh, who is on hold with 399 career wins. “We’ve got to work on creating seams and scoring lanes, and on getting second and third shots.
“We’ve done a good job this year in coming back from losses, and it’s a whole new season now.”