The Niagara Purple Eagles (13-6-3) and the RIT Tigers (10-7-2) combined for three shorthanded goals in Saturday’s contest. Niagara tallied two of those, and that proved to be the difference as the Purple Eagles withstood a flurry of late pressure from RIT to take a 5-3 win.
“I don’t know what happened to our power play tonight,” said RIT head coach Wayne Wilson. “We showed no poise.”
Niagara controlled play during the first half of the opening period when the teams were at even strength. However, the RIT defense prevented many of the Purple Eagles’ shots from reaching the goaltender.
The Tigers drew first blood at 10:02 when Justin Hofstetter sent a slapshot from the left point that deflected off a Niagara defender’s skate as he went down to block the shot. The bouncing puck eluded Purple Eagle netminder Allen Barton to give the Tigers the 1-0 lead.
It didn’t take long for Niagara to strike back with a blast from the top of the slot of its own. Scott Langdon took the shot, with a tip by Nate Bostic, to combine for the goal at 11:51 to tie the score at 1-1.
Niagara took the lead late in the period, tallying the first shorthanded goal against RIT this season on a great individual effort by Matt Caruana. Caruana carried the puck down the right side of the Tigers slot, eluded a Tiger defender, and lifted a backhander over RIT goaltender Louis Menard’s shoulder for the goal at 18:25 to put the Purple Eagles up 2-1.
“Obviously, shorthanded play was very important tonight,” said Niagara associate coach Jerry Forton.
The Tigers tied the game 2-2 in the opening moments of the second period when Steve Pinizzotto scored. Bobby Raymond fed a pass up the right boards to Pinizzotto, who carried it into the zone and ripped a slapshot cleanly past Barton at the :42 mark for the goal.
Niagara answered, extending its streak to nine straight games of scoring a power-play goal. Tyler Gotto, running the power play from the right point, sent a shot towards the net along the ice that Egor Mironov deflected up in to the top left corner of the net. Mironov’s goal at 7:59 put the Purple Eagles ahead by a 3-2 score.
The remainder of the period saw even play between Niagara and RIT, as each had big scoring chances answered by strong goaltending and defense.
The teams exchanged shorthanded goals to open the third period. Niagara scored the first one just 20 seconds into the period off a two-on-one breakaway. Caruana carried the puck into the zone and down the slot before he dished off to Sean Bentivoglio, who slid it through Menard’s five-hole for the goal.
RIT answered with a shortie of its own at 3:52 as Ricky Walton swatted the puck just hard enough off a scramble to have it trickle over the goal line to cut Niagara’s lead to 4-3.
“Our power play was very casual in treating loose pucks tonight,” said Forton.
The Tigers pulled Menard with 56 seconds remaining and had several good scoring chances with the extra skater. But a two-on-one breakaway by Les Reaney and Sean Bentivoglio sealed the win when Bentivoglio slid in the empty-net goal with just six seconds remaining in the contest.