ROCHESTER, N.Y. — RIT competed in their first postseason play since moving up to the Division I level. After waiting that long, it didn’t bother them they had to wait longer than 60 minutes to win their first Division I conference playoff game.
Matt Crowell’s goal at 15:19 of overtime gave RIT a 5-4 win over Holy Cross in the first game of the Atlantic Hockey quarterfinals.
Crowell picked up a loose puck in front after a rebound and beat Adam Roy with a waist high shot.
“Unfortunately, they got a bounce at the end and it went in,” Holy Cross coach Paul Pearl said.
RIT didn’t play a conservative overtime like happens so often in playoff games that go long. The Tigers outshot the Crusaders in the extra period, 9-1.
“We wanted to be aggressive,” RIT coach Wayne Wilson said. “Sometimes if you sit back too much, you’re almost waiting for things to happen to you. I thought we did a pretty good job of that. And obviously when you win, it makes you look pretty smart.”
It was yet another overtime loss for Holy Cross who hasn’t won in extra periods since their historic win over Minnesota in the NCAA playoffs in 2006.
It was a game that started out slow, picked up the pace in the second, then went through a frenetic third period to appropriately end in climactic fashion in overtime.
RIT struck first at 8:25 on their first power play which was shortened due to an earlier Tigers’ penalty. Matt Smith scored his 22nd goal of the season when he knocked in a rebound.
After the goal, it appeared that RIT relaxed a bit, allowing Holy Cross to take the play to the Tigers. Louis Menard was forced to make some big saves to keep his team in the lead, including a great low glove save off a deflection.
The Holy Cross pressure finally paid off as the Crusaders tied the game with 27.9 seconds left in the period. The puck was shot in from the left point, but it bounced off players and found it’s way to Joe Brock’s stick on the right side. Menard, prepared to make the save on the initial shot was still set up to his right. Brock had an easy time putting it into the empty near side.
Holy Cross wound up outshooting RIT in the opening stanza, 11-8.
RIT took control of the second period, but wound up with nothing to show for it, including a 5×3 power play for almost a minute. During that two-man advantage, an RIT shot rang the posts, but came back out. After one penalty was up, a crossing pass was whiffed at by both Andrew Favot and Matt Crowell who had an open net to shoot at.
“I thought a key point when we killed a five-on-three Adam did a really good job there and made a couple of saves off of one-timers,” Pearl said.
In a goal that could have broken RIT’s spirit, Holy Cross stunned the Tigers with a fluke score microseconds before the second period buzzer sounded. RIT’s Stephen Burns wrapped the puck behind his own net in an attempt to kill off the final seconds. As the puck was sliding around the side boards towards the blueline, it hit some sort of irregularity, and shot straight out to the slot.
There, Mark Znutas, unmarked and surprised as anyone else in the arena, one-timed it. The puck appeared to change direction beating Menard. Just after the puck slid across the line time ran out. The referees discussed it for a while as Holy Cross immediately left the ice. The goal was eventually put up on the scoreboard, and suddenly, despite being outshot in the second, 10-4, Holy Cross had a 2-1 lead.
And once again, RIT forgot a period was 20 minutes and not 19.
“The last minute and the first minutes of each period are very important, and we gave up a couple there,” Wilson said. “You can’t feel too sorry for yourself because you are not looking at another 10 games left in the season. It’s game by game now.”
The Tigers came out roaring in the final period, and quickly tied it up at 2:33. After a Brennan Sarazin shot, RIT crashed the net, and Stevan Matic stuffed the puck in.
Holy Cross refused to be rattled and answered almost four minutes later on a power play tally. Matt Burke sent a slapshot from the middle of the blueline past the stick side of Menard.
The goal scoring pace accelerated as RIT re-tied the game on their own power play two minutes later. Matt Smith deflected a pass past Roy.
However, before the home crowd could enjoy it, Holy Cross once again showed their toughness coming right down the ice and retook the lead 12 seconds later. Rob Forshner beat Menard on the short side.
“I was proud of the guys,” Pearl said. “They played hard. In order to beat a team like that, you’ve got to do that. They did a good job of that.”
“They have a lot of character there,” Wilson said of his opponent. “That was more than we could handle tonight. I give our guys credit for keep coming back and believing that we were. It was very positive on the bench. Our leadership was very strong tonight. When you get to playoff hockey, there are a lot of waves. You are going to have to handle some adversity.”
It took longer for the next goal to be scored, when once again RIT knotted the game. Smith brought it into the zone down the right side on a 2×1. Smith was allowed to cut in and took the shot. Roy made a strong save, but left a rebound to the opposite side. Smith, still hustling on the play, got his own rebound and deposited it into the unguarded portion of the net. It was Smith’s first Division I hat trick.
Menard wound up with 21 saves for the win as Roy stopped 36 shots in the loss.
These two teams do it again Saturday night for game two of the three-game series.
“I thought they did a really good job of dumping the puck and trying to play as much as possible in our end,” Wilson said. “They’re a good team and very well coached. Obviously when you go that deep in overtime, it was a tough game, and tomorrow should be a barn burner.”
“I thought we played well,” Pearl said. “I thought both teams played well. They got a little more firepower than we do, so obviously we tried to slow them up a bit, and I thought we did a really good job of it. It’s a two game series. So, they get the first one and we have to come back and take the second one, so it becomes a one game final on Sunday.”