BOSTON — In a matchup heavy with playoff implications, the Harvard Crimson upset the Princeton Tigers in a rematch of last season’s ECAC title game, 3-2 in front of 3,076 at the Bright Hockey Center Friday night.
Harvard (9-14-7, 9-7-6 ECAC) scored two power-play goals in continuing their late-season surge, while Princeton (20-9-0, 14-8-0) was one for five on the advantage and lost for the third time in five games.
Junior Alex Biega tallied two assists for the Crimson, and classmate Doug Rogers and sophomores Joe Smith and Matt McCollem scored for the home team. Second-year netminder Ryan Carroll stopped 38 of 40 for Harvard on Senior Night. Jody Pederson and Dan Bartlett each scored a goal with an assist for Princeton, and junior goalie Zane Kalemba made 27 saves tending the Tigers’ twine.
It means a lot. In front of your home fans in your last regular-season home game, it’s important to end on a good note, said Harvard head coach Ted Donato. Our seniors led our team in all areas tonight, and I think as a group they’re very happy to beat a very good Princeton team. Getting a fifth seed is quite an accomplishment, for our seniors to finish the way they did.
The Crimson needed a win if they hoped to wrest an unlikely first-round bye or the fifth seed; anything less than two points would’ve locked the Cantabs in sixth. Princeton played for a shot at second place, trailing current placeholder Cornell by a point in the standings entering the teams’ final game of the regular season.
Last year in the playoffs they took something from us that we wanted real bad, said Harvard co-captain Brian McCafferty. To come out [on top] tonight is something special, especially for our seniors, to give them a loss.
The combatants traded power plays in the early going, and the contest quickly adopted a fast, free-flowing pace. The Ivies rallied momentum back and forth with the changing of the lines, and even seven first-period penalties couldn’t sap the energy from the game.
The Tigers drew first blood at 6:21 with a trademark offensive move by a veteran defenseman. With the full compliment of Orange & Black breaking into the zone on the power play, junior center Bartlett quarterbacked the rush from just inside the blue line. He slung a quick pass to third-year Pederson beneath the right-wing circle, and the wily blueliner found the back of Carroll’s net from a minimal angle.
Harvard tarnished Kalemba’s pride six minutes later on a power play of its own. Second-line center Rogers pulled the puck out of the left-wing corner, and curled above the circle to evade pressure. With rookie Daniel Moriarty posing a threat on the goaltender’s doorstep, Kalemba was forced to hold his post as Rogers walked the puck across the high slot. The ‘keeper’s wariness allowed the center a lot of net to look at, and he wristed the equalizer past Kalemba’s desperate glove early in the game’s 13th minute.
[Rogers] has been excellent for us. He’s really carried the load offensively, he’s been a great faceoff guy for us, and his play goes hand in hand with the team’s recent uptick, praised Donato. Dougie’s a big part of our team, and when he plays well, we obviously play better.
The teams finished the first tied at one, despite a lopsided 17-8 Princeton lead on the shot chart. The Tigers took three minor penalties in the first, while the home side earned four such whistles.
The second stanza began more tentatively, but only slightly. Each team earned a few quality looks by the game’s halfway mark, but possibly the best came in a two-on-one between Princeton’s Brett Wilson and Lee Jubinville and Harvard defenseman Alex Biega. Wilson, the Tigers’ top scorer, deftly handled the defender and the puck, finally sliding a well-timed feed to Jubinville, last year’s ECAC Player of the Year. The senior center was open and had plenty of net to shoot at, but couldn’t properly arrange his stance and shot to coincide with the arrival of the puck.
The hosts made the most of their lucky break only a minute later, burying the go-ahead goal with 8:06 on the clock. The Crimson’s top line manufactured the lead, as seniors Nick Coskren and Jimmy Fraser assisted on sophomore Smith’s surface-skipping liner, which surprised Kalemba and beat him between the pads.
The reigning champs struck right back, however, once again on a thick rush. Dancing high around a thick scrum in front of Carroll, Bartlett saw daylight over the goalie’s right shoulder and whipped the puck through it.
The second intermission found the guests with a 26-21 overall shot advantage, but the squads even in penalties (four apiece) and score, 2-2.
Fraser, hit hard by two different shots in the first 40 minutes, had lumbered toward the Harvard dressing room following his line’s last shift of the second period. He left no doubt about his well-being early in the third though, as he popped Princeton winger Kevin Lohry right off his feet with a clean shoulder-check at center ice.
Jimmy had a couple of big hits today that I think really set the tone, said Donato. [Co-captains Fraser and McCafferty] compete real hard, and I think there’s a reason why they’ve met with the success they have to this point in their lives. They’re quality people, and have tremendous work ethics.
The Tigers lamented another lost two-on-one with 12 minutes to go as Lohry stripped sophomore Pier-Olivier Michaud in front of the Harvard bench. Michaud skated furiously to keep up with Lohry and linemate Kevin Kaiser, and forced Lohry into a spin-around backhand pass across Carroll’s face that Kaiser couldn’t handle.
The Crimson scored their second power-play goal of the game at 11:49 of the third with Tigers senior Brandon Kushniruk in the box for goaltender interference. Second-year winger McCollem snapped a perfect pass from low in the right-wing corner across the Princeton crease toward Rogers, but the puck never had to get there, deflecting behind Kalemba for what ultimately proved to be the game-winning goal.
It was important that we had an answer for some of their offense, said Donato of Harvard’s opportunistic scoring.
With St. Lawrence’s victory at Rensselaer and Dartmouth’s loss to Quinnipiac, Harvard claimed the fifth spot in the standings and will host Brown in the best-of-three first round next weekend. Princeton fell to third place with Cornell’s come-from-behind win at Brown, but will nonetheless enjoy next weekend off before hosting a quarterfinal series.