Yale blocks out one bad minute, keeps dictating the game

For 59 minutes of play in regulation against Massachusetts-Lowell, Yale did what Yale has done best in NCAA postseason play: box out the opponent, clog up the neutral zone, limit chances in front of the Bulldogs’ net.

That one minute, though — between 14:00 and 15:00 in the second period — nearly undermined a dominance that Yale had worked so hard to establish in the tournament, from the Bulldogs’ two games in the West Regional to the first 30 minutes of their 3-2 semifinal win on Thursday at Consol Energy Center.

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Leading the River Hawks 2-0, Yale looked flatfooted for a single minute and Lowell scored two goals 14 seconds apart to tie the game.

This wasn’t in Yale’s script. Fortunately, the Bulldogs have selective short-term memory.

“I blocked it out,” senior forward Josh Balch said. “As soon as they scored two goals … it’s now a 0-0 game. We walked into the third period and said that whoever wins the next 20 minutes wins the game. If you keep thinking about those two goals, it’s a downward spiral.”

“We have short memories and forget about the bad things that happen,” sophomore defenseman Tommy Fallen said. “We all know what we need to do as a team.”

As a team, the Bulldogs have dictated the terms of how their NCAA tournament games have been played. In the semifinal win, Yale outshot Massachusetts-Lowell 47-18. In their 3-2 overtime win against Minnesota in the West Regional two weeks ago, the Bulldogs trailed the Golden Gophers in shots on goal but were the stronger team for the first 40 minutes of the contest.

In their 4-1 win over North Dakota the following day, the Bulldogs outshot UND 39-25.

“We have a game of keeping it going to the outside, making it very difficult for them,” Fallen said. “What worked for us was just moving our feet and our speed. We preach defense leads to offense and if we play good defensively, we’re going to get more opportunity on offense to score goals.”

Defense first is the team’s mantra.

“For this season, we think our defense leads to offense a lot of times,” freshman forward Stu Wilson said. “If we can shut them down and limit their grinds down low in our zone then we’ll come up with the puck and hopefully turn it on pretty quick. If we don’t score off the rush, we’re going to grind them down ourselves. It’s definitely been something we focus on.”

Except for that minute late in the second period, the game against Lowell was no different for the Bulldogs.

“The way we describe ourselves and the way we want to be is a disciplined, aggressive, relentless hockey team that can stick to a structure,” Fallen said. “That’s what we did tonight. We were playing a very good team — a really good offensive and defensive team — so we knew coming in that we needed to stick to our structure.”

“We’ve had the mentality that defense leads to offense all year,” senior goaltender Jeff Malcolm said. “The guys tonight obviously did a good job in front of me kind of eliminating a lot of things, making my life pretty easy, which is nice.”

The reward for such a unified mission is obvious.

“It was as good an effort as we’ve had,” coach Keith Allain said. “And our last three games have been all great efforts. I thought that we were — as much as we created offensively, I thought we were rock solid defensively.

“A lot of our offense was because of the fact that we defended so well that we had the puck and they didn’t.”

Except for that one minute in the second period.

Said Fallen, “We just got caught and we bounced back.”