NEW HAVEN, Conn. — It wasn’t pretty, but any win is a big win in the playoffs.
The defending national champions from Yale took the lesson to heart and stifled rival Harvard 4-0 in Game 1 of the ECAC Hockey postseason behind 24 saves from freshman Alex Lyon.
Yale seniors Jesse Root and Gus Young and sophomores Cody Learned and Carson Cooper shared the four goals for the Bulldogs (16-9-5, 10-8-4 ECAC). The shutout was the second straight for Lyon and the Blue; the team has not allowed a goal in 139:21.
“I think against a team like Harvard, it’s real important that you defend first,” said Yale coach Keith Allain. “I thought we played a strong game defensively. At the same token, I thought we showed real good intensity around their net offensively.”
Junior goaltender Steve Michalek allowed three goals on 14 shots and senior Raphael Girard replaced him with a 13-save effort for the Crimson (10-16-4, 6-12-4). Harvard went 0-for-4 on the power play in losing for the fourth time in five games (1-4-0).
“I don’t think we played very well. We had shots, we had chances, but I don’t think we made it very difficult on the goalie,” said Harvard coach Ted Donato. “He was able to see everything. He was sharp and I give them credit – I think they did a good job – but we gave up two breakaway goals pretty easily and just didn’t make them work for their goals.”
Root was the first Bulldog to pounce, racing through a seam at the Harvard blue line to receive a perfectly-timed pass from Kenny Agostino. Despite a penalty-drawing hook by Harvard’s Danny Fick, Root was able to put enough mustard on a wrist shot to beat Michalek over the right leg pad in the game’s eighth minute.
“It was a really nice pass from Ken,” Root described. “I saw a little opening, so I got through and he put it right on my stick and I was able to get around a defenseman. I saw the goalie move one way and I just tried to put it back the other and luckily, it went in.”
Two minutes later, Young put his blade on a loose puck in a crease-cramming scrum and Yale was up 2-0. Harvard recovered and kept the damage from escalating, but never managed to develop any quality chances or protracted possessions.
Learned forced Harvard’s hand 5:44 into the second stanza, beating the Crimson defense to a rolling dump-in and out-waiting Michalek for Yale’s third goal. That was the end of the night for Michalek, and Donato took his timeout shortly thereafter.
The remainder of the period was all Yale, as the Crimson managed to get only four pucks through to Lyon.
The second frame concluded with Root taking a massive hit at center-ice that knocked him off his feet and relocated his helmet. Play continued with no penalty, leading to some physical liberties taken by both teams before the horn.
Root returned to action apparently none the worse for wear.
With less than 10 minutes to play in regulation, Harvard freshman Alex Kerfoot took a tumble into Lyon’s net during a net-front scramble. The Devils draft pick stayed down after the whistle, flailing in conspicuous pain. He was eventually escorted off the ice by Yale’s medical staff and taken through the Bulldogs’ hall with what appeared to be a left-shoulder injury. He was later seen after the game wearing a sling supporting his left arm.
Cooper closed out the scoring with three minutes to play, wristing a precision shot past Girard’s glove from the heart of the slot.
The teams return to action tomorrow night at Ingalls Rink. Another Yale victory will send the Bulldogs on to the quarterfinals and the Crimson home for the season.