UPDATED: March 25, 2017, at 9:00 p.m.
PROVIDENCE, R.I. — All streaks—good or bad—must come to an end. It’s just a matter of when. For the Harvard men’s hockey team, Friday evening’s 3-0 win over Providence continued a positive streak while ending an undesirable one.
The Crimson’s quest for a Division I title began with an East Regional semifinal matchup played in the Friars’ hometown. The weekend matinee saw No. 2 Harvard (27-6-2, 16-4-2 ECAC) win its 15th consecutive game, halting a period of more than two decades without an NCAA tournament victory.
No. 13 Providence (22-12-5, 12-7-3 HEA), although just the fifth team to outshoot Harvard all season, exits NCAA bracket play in the first round for a second consecutive year. The Friars, two seasons removed from a Division I crown of their own, came out hard and peppered Harvard junior goaltender Merrick Madsen with shot after shot in the contest’s opening minutes. The effective home team in Friday’s game, however, did not receive the calls, the bounces, or the goals necessary to advance.
“We’re very happy and excited to move on,” Harvard coach Ted Donato ’91 said. “[The Friars] certainly had stretches of the game where they carried the play. I thought they worked hard; they were physical.”
The Crimson has now captured five straight victories against Providence, despite the last meeting between the two teams occurring over three decades ago.
VICTORY AT LAST
Since Harvard’s NCAA Championship season in 1989, the Crimson had won just a single tournament game, coming at the expense of New Hampshire in 1994. But Donato, the Most Outstanding Player of the tournament during the ’89 run, captured an elusive Division I playoff win in his fifth attempt behind the Harvard bench Friday.
Entering its clash with the Friars, the Crimson had been bounced from tournament play in the Regional semifinals in seven straight appearances.
“To get that first one under our belt is something we’ve been working for, for a long time,” senior forward Tyler Moy said. “We’ve got a great thing going with our team here, and I think we’re looking forward to the opportunity to continue.”
More recently, Harvard’s offense in the NCAA Tournament—or the lack thereof— has been one of the primary causes of the team’s inability to make it out of the round of 16. The Crimson had mustered just a single goal in each of its previous three appearances in the NCAA playoff, bowing out to Boston College last year, Nebraska-Omaha in 2015, and Maine in 2006.
What’s more: Harvard had not scored the first goal in an NCAA Tournament game since Ryan Maki ’07 opened the scoring in the team’s 2005 overtime loss to New Hampshire.
But Friday evening, courtesy of Moy, the Crimson enjoyed playing with its first lead in a Division I tournament game in over a decade. With the score notched at zeros, Moy caught Providence goalie Hayden Hawkey out of position and bulged the twine on the power play.
With the East semifinal win, Harvard ties a program record with 15 straight wins—a mark set by the 1989 championship team.
MADSEN PLAYING LIKE A MADMAN
After enduring the throws of a goaltending battle last season, netminder Merrick Madsen entered his junior campaign with a stranglehold on the starting role. And he hasn’t looked back. The Crimson has ridden Madsen’s strong play—evidenced by a .938 save percentage and a 1.67 goals against average since Jan. 20—to a historic 17-game unbeaten streak.
A recurring storyline of late, the Acton, Calif., native put forth yet another solid performance Friday against Providence, as he recorded a career-high 41 saves to get his third shutout of the season.
The Friars certainly controlled the game for various stretches, and the Harvard skaters relied heavily on their brick wall to bail them out. After Madsen fended off Providence’s barrage of shots at the outset of the contest, including a sequence of stuff-attempts from within five feet of the net, he appeared locked in for the remainder of the game.
Just when the Friars seemed to be tilting the ice, Madsen’s crucial stops snuffed any Providence momentum and allowed his team to establish dominant stretches of its own.
“I just think we had something on our side,” Madsen said. “And I think that made it easier for everyone.”
The Crimson’s record holder for consecutive wins—a mark now at 15 games—has accrued honors and accolades all season, as his importance to the team becomes more evident with each start.
With last weekend’s ECAC semifinal victory, Madsen became Harvard’s all-time leader in single-season wins, eclipsing the 24-win mark set by Grant Blair ’86. After earning another tick in the win column Friday, the Philadelphia Flyers prospect maintains the highest winning percentage in Division I, as he is responsible for all 34 Harvard decisions this season, leading to a 27-5-2 record.
During the championship rounds of the ECAC tournament, Madsen rejected 50 of 52 shots thrown his way en route to receiving Most Outstanding Player and all-tournament team honors. On top of these conference playoff distinctions, the all-Ivy League first-teamer was a finalist for the Ken Dryden ECAC Hockey Goaltender of the Year Award and a semifinalist for the Mike Richter Award, given to Division I’s premier puck stopper.
“I think it starts with the goaltender,” Donato said. “He’s made some big saves at key times.”
Madsen was also considered for the Walter Brown Award, bestowed upon the best American-born college hockey player in the New England area.
After Friday evening’s Regional semifinal showing, Madsen now ranks 13th in the nation in save percentage (.922), while his goals against average (2.12) places him 12th among Division I netminders. Over the course of Harvard’s 17-game unbeaten streak, Madsen ranks fifth in each category.
Madsen’s whitewash of Providence marks the 11th game this season in which the Crimson’s go-to tender has saved at least 95 percent of the opposition’s shots. Madsen has now sent away at least 30 attempts in eight games to date.
EARLY LEAD? LET’S KEEP IT THAT WAY
In the lead-up to Friday’s tournament opener, Harvard talked extensively about one of its primary goals being to net the game’s first score. Donato and his squad knew that, in a single-elimination format like that of the NCAA Tournament, there is little opportunity to rectify early mistakes.
“It’s not a three-game series where if you have a bad night, you can make it up,” Moy said. “It was going to be important to start fast and start hard, so grabbing that first goal is something we focused on all week.”
In the game’s opening minutes, it looked as though Harvard might struggle to achieve this objective. The Friars were flying into the Crimson zone off the rush and saw some grade-A scoring chances early in the contest. In fact, Providence notched eight of the game’s first 10 shots on goal.
Nevertheless, thanks to Madsen’s strong play and a few favorable bounces and calls—namely a potential Providence goal negated for offside—Harvard was able to stave off this early Friars attack.
Besides the obvious desire to own the advantage whenever possible, the Crimson’s track record with the lead this season explains why potting the game’s first goal was so important.
Harvard entered Friday’s game with a 19-2-0 record when scoring first. Plus, the East Regional’s top seed had been 18-1-0 on the year with a lead after one period and a perfect 21-0-0 with a lead after two. More generally, Harvard has lost just three games all season in which it led at any point in the contest.
The Crimson’s “play with the lead” mentality was of particular note also because, until Tyler Moy’s second-period man-up tally, Harvard had not possessed a lead in an NCAA Tournament game since 2005.
This season, the Crimson has opened the scoring in 22 of 34 games and has done so in all but two contests during its 15-game win streak.
CORRECTION: March 25, 2017
A previous version of this story stated that this was Merrick Madsen's fourth shutout. He has been a part of four shutouts, but he has been credited as the sole netminder for only three of those shutouts.
—Staff writer Spencer R. Morris can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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