Three takeaways from Harvard’s 3-2 victory over Air Force in the East Regional

Ryan Donato scores to give Harvard a 2-0 lead over Air Force in the second period (photo: Melissa Wade).

PROVIDENCE, R.I. — Half of the NCAA Frozen Four field was finalized on Saturday night after Harvard defeated Air Force 3-2 in a roller coaster East Regional final. Here are three of the biggest things to note after the game:

1. Harvard finds the lanes

Harvard found a number of scoring chances, but the Crimson excelled at defining open lanes even in an Air Force system that pressed hard in the neutral zone and on a forecheck. Tyler Moy’s goal came from a crisp passing play from Adam Fox to Alexander Kerfoot to Moy, who caught Falcons goaltender Shane Starrett as he tracked the puck across the crease. The tally was the 18th power-play goal Air Force gave up in 42 games this season. The ability at even strength to pull away defensemen, especially those with as much bite as Air Force, helped Harvard mark its elite status in the tournament.

The depth of scoring that has fortified Harvard appeared once again as it has through much of the tournament. On one end, defenseman Viktor Dombrovskiy scored his fifth career goal to start off the game’s scoring. On the other side, Moy’s power-play tally gave him his 100th career point and set Sean Malone to 99 in his Harvard tenure.

Harvard also capitalized on striking first, improving its record to 21-2 when scoring first in a game. While the 3-0 lead held for only a few minutes, the cushion gave Harvard some room as Air Force punched to try to rally.

2. Air Force doesn’t fold

Air Force kept many second guessing until the waning minutes of the game. The Falcons were one of the few teams to hold Harvard close and collapse in to stifle as much of the team’s speed as possible.

Much like against Western Michigan, Air Force scored in quick succession, 15 seconds apart in the second period, to swing the game from a 3-0 Harvard cruise to an edge-to-edge clash between these two programs. The Atlantic Hockey champion held the ECAC Hockey champion on its toes, pushing shots wide and forcing off-angle shots to take pressure off Starrett.

Air Force pulled pressure late in the game, coming inches wide on tying it after a series of half a dozen icings in the final four minutes let Air Force set up in its offensive zone. Madsen was forced to perform some acrobatics to keep the game from becoming a tied affair.

3. Crimson seniors seek 80

Harvard’s Class of 2017 will be well represented on the ice in Chicago. The Crimson are a senior-heavy group, featuring seven players graduating in the spring. Many, including Kerfoot, said the decision to stay and continue to compete in the team’s third consecutive NCAA tournament stemmed from the actions of former teammates including Jimmy Vesey. His choice to stay after his Hobey Baker Award nomination led to, as Kerfoot described, a “trickle down” in the locker room that influenced many of the high talent players to stay. The class has 78 wins as a group and hopes to see 80 be the mark of ultimate team success.