LEWISTON, N.Y. — Niagara winger Ryan Murphy’s backhander on Canisius goaltender Tony Capobianco snapped a 0-0 tie at the 15:36 mark of the third period and would be all the offense that the 14th-ranked Purple Eagles would need in a 2-0 home win over their Atlantic Hockey archrivals.
The victory gave Niagara (18-5-5, 17-2-2 AHA) a 2-1 season series win over the Golden Griffins (11-14-5, 10-9-2) and earned the Purple Eagles a measure of revenge for their 2-0 loss at Canisius on Thursday.
“You’re just hoping your best player makes a play and he did; the timing of it was unbelievable,” said Niagara coach Dave Burkholder, whose squad was without injured 12-goal scorer Giancarlo Iuorio for the 10th consecutive game. “That’s a as close of a weekend series as we’ve had. That was a track meet. Both teams on the rush were dangerous. Good goaltending. Man, that was an entertaining hockey game.”
“I thought it was a super-intense game,” Griffs’ coach Dave Smith added. “Both team had chances. Both teams played physical. Both teams played hard. That was an extremely high level of hockey played, both ways.”
Murphy’s goal was both sudden and strange. Operating near the red line deep in his own zone, Niagara forward Marc Zanette scooped up a loose puck and flipped a sailing, cross-ice saucer pass that barely cleared the outstretched stick of Canisius winger Preston Shupe, caught defenseman Ben Danford flat-footed in the neutral zone and ricocheted off the side boards in the Canisius zone before bouncing off an official.
Murphy swooped in on the bouncing puck from the left wing, cut hard to the Griffs’ net and lifted a sharp backhanded shot from a nearly impossible angle at the left post to beat Capobianco.
“The puck went across ice in the D-zone and we like to throw it into the other side and skate onto it,” Murphy said. “I just put my head down and skated as fast as I could and once I got to the blue [line], I put my head up and the puck was right in front of me. I took it right to the net, went to the backhand and it went right in the net.”
The goal broke Capobianco’s 142:36 shutout streak over Niagara. The junior netminder shut out the Purple Eagles 2-0 two nights ago. He was last beaten by a Niagara scorer at 13:01 of the second period in the Purple Eagles’ 2-1 win over the Griffs in Buffalo on Nov. 16.
“I just read icing,” said Capobianco, who finished with 42 saves. “Once [Murphy] got the puck, I couldn’t get my depth and kind of in desperation, threw a poke check, but he was just too far away. It was a pretty good shot.”
Niagara center Patrick Divjak collected an empty-net goal with three seconds remaining in the game.
Purple Eagles’ goaltender Carson Chubak was terrific as usual, stopping 32 shots to earn his nation-leading sixth shutout of the season. Chubak, a Hobey Baker Award nominee, is fifth in Division I hockey in goals-against average (1.71), fourth in save percentage (.943) and third in winning percentage (.759).
“A couple key faceoff wins, some blocked shots and Carson was very solid,” Burkholder said.
Niagara continued its domination at Dwyer Arena. The Purple Eagles now have an 18-game unbeaten streak that stretches back to Feb. 11, 2012 and are scheduled to play a home-and-home series with Robert Morris next weekend.
With six games remaining in the regular season, it appears that Niagara — with 36 points — is safely slotted into first place in Atlantic Hockey. The picture is not nearly as clear for Canisius, whose 22 points currently have the Griffs tied for fourth place in the conference with Holy Cross.
The road does not get easier for Canisius, who will make the cross-country trip to Colorado Springs next weekend to face Air Force. After an uneven three months to open the 2012-13 season, Frank Serratore’s Falcons are 6-2-3 since the start of the new year.
The Griffs will have to make the trip without center Matt Grazen, who will serve the final two games of his seven-game suspension for an illegal hit from behind on Air Force forward George Michalke, who has not played since sustaining a facial injury and concussion during the Oct. 25 contest in Buffalo.