PRINCETON, N.J. — Once again, Harvard saved its best for last, and now the Crimson are moving on to the second round of the ECAC Tournament.
One night after scoring four times in the third period to overcome a two-goal deficit, Harvard tallied three third-period scores to top Princeton, 3-0, and sweep their best-of-three first round series at Hobey Baker Rink. Junior netminder Kyle Richter again paced the Crimson in goal, making 37 saves in posting his fifth career shutout and first-ever in the playoffs.
“We took a lot of confidence from last night,” said Harvard coach Ted Donato. “It was an even game, and Kyle was very good.”
Richter finished with 70 saves in all on the weekend, and did not allow a Princeton goal over the final 87:38 of play in the series.
“I thought it was a great team effort tonight and last night,” said Richter. “Our guys never gave up, and they sealed the net and allowed me to see shots from the point.”
Princeton outshot Harvard 37-17 tonight, but went 0-for-5 on the power play. Zane Kalemba finished with 14 saves in his final appearance in net for the Tigers, who finished an injury-riddled campaign.
“That’s a good hockey team,” said Donato,. “We have a lot of respect for them, from Guy (Gadowsky) on down, and Kalemba has been superb for them throughout his stay. We were fortunate to come in and win two games.”
Following a scoreless first period in which Princeton outshot Harvard by a 15-7 margin, the two teams combined for just nine shots on goal in the middle stanza. The host Tigers had a three-on-none chance with just over 12 minutes remaining in the second period when Dan Bartlett broke in and was slashed to draw a penalty, but saw his shot stopped by Richter.
Princeton (12-16-3) was killing off a penalty of its own when Harvard’s Marshall Everson picked up a rebound at the right post with 5:49 left and Kalemba down, but he couldn’t put the puck home.
Princeton’s Kevin Crane got off a shot in close with just over 14 minutes left in the final period as Richter made a pad save, just before Crane was whistled off for hooking.
The Crimson made their third power play of the night count, as Louis LeBlanc passed out from the left corner to Daniel Moriarty in the left circle, and Moriarty wristed the puck past Kalemba at 7:11 for his sixth goal of the season and second score in as many nights. Michael Biega had the other assist, as he kept the puck in on the left side and fed LeBlanc down low.
Harvard freshman defenseman Danny Biega also made it two goals in two nights himself when he outraced several Princeton defenders to a clearing pass, cut to his backhand in front of Kalemba, and put the puck upstairs at 14:23 for his fifth goal this year. Michael Del Mauro and Luke Greiner both assisted.
“He’s a guy who’s been really comfortable since day one,” said Donato of Biega, the youngest of three brothers on this year’s Crimson squad. “We’ve seen another level from him lately, and the goal he scored tonight was spectacular.”
Biega then fought off a check with 1:15 remaining, went into the left corner, and centered to Greiner in front, who hit an empty net to put the game and the series away, as Kalemba had been pulled for a sixth attacker. Colin Moore picked up the other assist on the play.
“He’s given us a real boost, with all the minutes he’s played,” added Donato about the youngest Biega. “It’s scary to think he’s playing this well as an 18-year-old.”
The Crimson now move on to face a still-undetermined opponent.
“It’s a positive atmosphere now,” said Richter. “We’ll enjoy the victory, but we’ll focus Monday when we come back.”
Harvard (9-19-3) last won a first-round ECAC series in 2007, when it swept host Yale. The Crimson also won a quarterfinal round against Quinnipiac in three games two years ago.
“Playoff time is anyone’s game,” said Richter. “We looked at this weekend as a huge opportunity, and we responded very well.”
Princeton coach Guy Gadowsky was still pleased with the effort made by his players in what turned out to be their final game of the 2009-10 campaign.
“You can’t fault the effort at all, and I thought we played extremely well,” he said. “Our guys were prepared, and they played hard.”
Tonight’s loss also closed the careers of Princeton’s nine-member senior class that won a school record 67 games, and also earned an ECAC playoff championship and two NCAA Tournament berths.
“That class was the winningest in our history, and they were huge to our program,” said Gadowsky. “Absolutely huge.”
Kalemba himself will cherish his memories of Old Nassau, even if the ending wasn’t one he and his classmates had envisioned.
“You kind of appreciate sophomore and junior year a little more, when you won a championship,” he said. “You forget how hard it is to win every night, how every team is tough every night, and you realize how special those two years were.”
He’ll miss his Tigers’ teammates most of all, especially his fellow seniors.
“They’re my closest friends, and will be for the rest of my life,” said Kalemba. “Unfortunately, we couldn’t extend it, especially for the guys who were injured. They’re a great bunch of guys, and these were the best four years of my life.”