PROVIDENCE, R.I.--He made 27 saves, many of them magnificent, a lot of them terrific, and a few of them merely excellent.
But Providence goalie Mario Proulx left the rink a loser, the victim of Grant Blair's fourth collegiate shutout.
"He made the saves he had to make," Proulx said after the game. Blair "had to make" 40 saves, because he clung to a one-goal edge until Dave Connors's open-net tally with 13 seconds left made the final score 2-0.
Did the pressure get to Blair? "I'm just praying we could hold on," the Stony Creek, Ontario native recalled. "Halfway through the third period, I forgot the score. I knew we were leading by one, but I didn't know I was going for the shutout," Blair added.
Shutouts had been shut out of the Harvard vocabulary this season. The Crimson had held the opposition to a single goal just once in 13 games, and only one other Harvard foe scored fewer than three times.
Blair's ECAC - leading 2.74 goals-against average last year helped him earn Ivy League Rookie-of-the-Year honors. And despite seeing more shots this year, he has attained a 91.0 percent save rate, 0.6 percent above his rate last year. If he continues at this rate, he will break the Harvard single-save record of 650.
The extra work isn't unnoticed. "I'm a little more tired after the game," Blair said. But, "If we win, it's worth it."
Beating Providence was especially worthwhile for Blair, who cherishes memories of last year's ECAC final, when he held off the Friars in Harvard's 4-1 victory.
"They're usually the class of the East," said the New England Rookie of the Year. "I don't have any trouble getting up for them."
As for facing Proulx, one of the East's top netminders, Blair downplayed the duel. "I'm not going against him, I'm going against the Friars," he said. "Once I start thinking about it [the other goalie], that's when I play bad."
In hockey's equivalent of a pitcher's battle, Blair nearly gave in first. With nine seconds left on Providence's first power play, Japes Orlando took a slapshot. Blair didn't see the puck until it was in his net. But referee Chris Holden disallowed the goal because a Friar was standing in the crease.
Neither Proulx nor Blair particularly enjoyed playing in such a tight game. Asked if Harvard's first shutout of the season was a great way to end a seven-game losing streak, Blair responded: "I would have liked to maybe beat them 7-0."
For Proulx, the shortage of goals is much more serious. The senior's stats are far less impressive than Blair's so the 2-0 loss brought a lot of frustration.
"It's just kind of a shame to get no goals at your home rink," Proulx said. "You can't win if you don't score."
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Bruce Durno and Brian Petrovek hold the Crimson record for single-season saves.
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