Harvard, which had three players take the season off to compete in the Games, usually finds itself in the middle of the fray.
On Saturday night, the Crimson prevented Clarkson from earning its first home ECAC playoff game in program history, beating the Golden Knights, 3-2, on an improbable last-second goal by senior Jennifer Raimondi.
That put the two teams in a three-way tie for third place in the conference. Due to tiebreakers, Brown earns the third seed, with the Crimson hosting Clarkson at Bright Hockey Center next weekend in the opening round of the playoff tourney.
A day earlier, St. Lawrence’s 3-0 victory over Harvard was a first, snapping a 13-game unbeaten streak that the Crimson had held against the Saints.
In both contests, slow starts left Harvard struggling to climb back into the games.
“The first period is something we have struggled with all season,” captain Carrie Schroyer said. “It’s just a matter of mentally engaging a little more, which we do in response to goals.”
With its suffocating defense and potent powerplay, St. Lawrence clinched the regular-season ECAC title with the two points against Harvard.
HARVARD 3, CLARKSON 2
On Saturday night, Clarkson was less than half a minute from clinching the third seed in the ECAC tournament, achieving a home ECAC playoff date for the first time in its two years in the conference.
In the crunch, Clarkson buckled under the pressure.
After the Crimson had pulled senior goalie Ali Boe, who saved thirty shots overall, the extra skater gave Harvard the advantage it needed. With 27 seconds remaining before the Crimson would lose its playoff home ice, junior Lindsey Weaver beat the Saints’ Kira Hurley during a six-on-five, high-pressure situation.
“I can only picture the puck going in the net,” Raimondi said. “The goaltender bobbled it, and we got our sticks on it somehow.”
In the scheme of the ECAC standings, however, even a tie would not have been good enough for Harvard to secure home-ice advantage.
As overtime wound down, Clarkson appeared poised to hold onto the tie and earn the home playoff game next weekend.
For the second time that night, however, extra pressure from the Crimson forced a hole in the Golden Knights defense.
With 18 seconds remaining in overtime, the Crimson called a timeout with a faceoff in its offensive zone coming up. The play worked to perfection as Raimondi nailed the puck into the net. Raimondi, who has been the center of the Crimson offense all season, beat Hurley on the only Harvard shot during the extra frame.
“That is exactly what you want at the end of a game, and it came from grit and determination,” Schroyer said. “She got the puck, looked up, and saw a hole in the net.”
The result was a far cry from what the opening period revealed about the two teams. Clarkson dramatically outshot the Crimson by a tally of 15-5, netting two goals, including one with 20 seconds left in the period.
St. LAWRENCE 3, HARVARD 0
Unfortunately for the Crimson, the Saints achieved a “first” on Friday night by beating Harvard for the first time in 14 tries by a final score of 3-0 at Appleton Arena.
The Crimson started slowly and was not able to apply early pressure to St. Lawrence and goalie Meghan Guckian.
In order to beat Guckian—who leads the nation with a 1.03 goals-against average and a .944 save percentage—the Harvard offense needed to play at its best.
Harvard posted only four shots in the first period, during which the Saints took a 2-0 lead and 19 for the entire contest.
“It’s that first period that hurts our team,” Schroyer said. “It’s a very hard position to be in one or two goals down. In the second period, we made it a priority to beat them on a team versus team level, and we dominated in the second period.”
On the other side of the ice, the Crimson struggled to contain St. Lawrence’s Kerri Wallace, who played a role in all three of the Saints scores.
Her goal gave St. Lawrence the lead midway through the first period.
From there, the Saints managed two more goals on their powerplay unit, both coming from the national leader in points per game, Sabrina Harbec.
Harbec’s first came with just over five minutes left in the first period to extend St. Lawrence’s lead, while her second iced the game toward the end of the final frame.
“Against a team like St. Lawrence, you have to start fast,” Raimondi said. “It’s a long trip up to St. Lawrence, and we needed to be in the game sooner than we were. Take away that first period and we hold them to 1-0.”
The Crimson powerplay struggled against the potent St. Lawrence offense and tight defense, managing only five pucks on net during its six chances. Harvard’s inability to find the back of the net during powerplays has become somewhat of a trend lately as the Crimson has dropped in the national rankings for special teams efficiency.
—Staff writer Gabriel M. Velez can be reached at email@example.com.