PRINCETON, N.J. — Sometimes, one shot is all you need.
Jody Pederson broke a scoreless tie with his slap shot from the blue line early in the third period, and Kevin Kaiser sank an insurance marker into an empty net with 47 seconds remaining in regulation to lift No. 10 Princeton to a 2-0 victory over No. 7 Yale on Saturday night before an overflow crowd of 2,540 at Hobey Baker Memorial Rink.
“There was a lot of energy tonight, and it was a huge game,” said Pederson. “We’re chasing Yale for first place, and they’ve been hot since Christmas. This was a good test, and it was about as close to a playoff game as you could get.”
The win brought second-place Princeton (20-7-0, 14-6-0 ECAC) within two points of first-place Yale (19-6-2, 14-4-2 ECAC), while each team has two conference games remaining. The host Tigers have now won six of their last seven outings overall, while the visiting Bulldogs saw their unbeaten streak snapped at 10 games and suffered their first road loss since Nov. 7, 2008.
“I thought it was a heck of a hockey game,” said Yale coach Keith Allain, whose team was trying to clinch its first ECAC regular-season title since 1997-98. “It was two very good teams giving all they had.”
The two Ivy League rivals traded offensive opportunities during the first 40 minutes, with Yale carrying slightly more of the play in the first period and Princeton having a slim shooting edge in the second stanza. The Tigers held a 22-20 shot advantage after the first two periods, and wound up outshooting the Bulldogs by a 35-31 margin.
Yale senior goaltender Alec Richards made 33 saves in all, while Princeton junior netminder Zane Kalemba recorded 31 stops in earning his 20th win of the season.
“It was a fun game to watch,” said Princeton coach Guy Gadowsky, whose Tigers have now posted back-to-back 20-win seasons. “For a defensive game, there were so many chances.”
Richards got across his net in time to stop Princeton forward Lee Jubinville point-blank at the left post with 8:52 left in the second session, while Kalemba came up with a glove save on Brian O’Neill’s tip-in try at the right post with 2:19 remaining.
Princeton finally broke through on a power play at 5:34 of the final period after Yale’s Kevin Limbert had been whistled for interference in what turned out to be the only infraction over the final 20 minutes.
With 33 seconds remaining in the man advantage and the Tigers set up in the Yale zone, Brett Wilson fed Taylor Fedun at the right point. Fedun slid the puck across to Pederson at the left point, and the junior blueliner drilled a shot that went past teammate Kevin Bartlett standing in front and past Richards on the stick side for the 1-0 lead.
“Feds made a good pass, and I just tried to get it past the first guy who was coming at me,” said Pederson, who tallied his career-high fourth goal of the campaign and first since Jan. 31. “Barts set up a good screen, and it went in.”
The goal was Princeton’s only power-play marker in four attempts, while Yale was scoreless in three man-up situations.
“It was frustrating not to be able to get power plays, and then to lose on a power-play goal,” said Allain.
Wilson picked up his fourth point in two games on the goal, and now stands all alone in 12th place on the all-time Princeton scoring scroll with 102 career points.
The Bulldogs went for broke after Pederson’s goal, but Kalemba proved equal to the task. He stopped Chris Cahill from the slot with just under 10 minutes left, and then got a leg on Mike Matczak’s shot from the right point. Kalemba later gloved Cahill’s try from the right circle, and then warded off separate deflections right in front by Matt Nelson and Denny Kearney, plus a backhander in close by Broc Little.
Gadowsky didn’t necessarily believe that the first goal of the game would prove to be the game-winner, considering Yale’s offensive prowess and its average output of 3.5 goals per game.
“I don’t think we felt that way,” said Gadowsky. “Zane played the way he has all year, so we certainly were not worried.”
“Give Yale a lot of credit,” said Pederson. “They competed the whole way, and it was a heck of a game.”
Richards was pulled for an extra attacker with roughly one minute left; but the Tigers didn’t breathe easy until Kaiser came up with the puck off a scrum at the right point in the Princeton zone, skated almost to the opposing blue line, and then slid the disk down into the empty cage at 19:13 to a loud roar from the Tiger-heavy crowd.
“They were fantastic from the drop of the puck, and the atmosphere was electric,” said Gadowsky. “The hockey fans here are fantastic. It was a big game, and they came out.”
Princeton will now visit Dartmouth on Friday, while Yale will host Cornell. Both the Tigers and Bulldogs will receive byes for the first round of the ECAC Tournament on March 7-8.