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In a game that seemed to be taking place at a neutral sight rather than the friendly confines of Bright Hockey Center, the Harvard men's hockey team opened up the ECAC playoffs with a hard-fought 2-2 tie with RPI last night. RPI 2 Harvard 2
Harvard (14-13-2) overcame the lackadaisical home crowd and a lackluster second period that saw it fall behind 2-0 to come storming back on the strength of a Perry Cohagan tip-in late in the second and a beautiful tally by Brad Konik at 10:54 of the third period.
Both teams began the game with plenty of intensity, but sloppy offensive play limited the scoring chances early on. Harvard registered 10 first-period shots on goal, but RPI (16-13-4) had the best chance to take the lead when Tim Regan stripped the puck from Harvard defenseman Ashlin Halfnight and broke in alone only to be denied by goaltender Tripp Tracy.
That save inspired Tracy, who managed to keep the Engineers off the board for the rest of the period.
"I'm encouraged by the way the breakaways turned out," Tracy said. "It gives me something to build on."
However, neither team did any building at all in the first period. The most dramatic moment occurred when Harvard freshman Doug Sproule collided with RPI goalie Mike Tamburro, angering the junior netminder and inciting the crowd to taunt him.
Harvard's only sustained pressure of the first period came during the Crimson's two power plays, when Steve Martins and Kirk Nielsen each had excellent chances. But Harvard continually shot itself in the foot by nullifying both power plays with penalties of its own.
RPI, however, was also unable to capitalize on any of its man-up situations, failing to register a shot on either of two first-period power plays.
The Crimson entered the second period looking to seize the advantage in this tight-checking game. But it was RPI that got on the board first when a sloppy Harvard breakout allowed Engineer Bryan Richardson to move the puck back to Bryan Tapper at the point. Tapper proceeded to fire a low, hard slapper that found its way through a crowd in front and trickled through Tracy's legs to give the Engineers a 1-0 lead.
Harvard earned another power play at 4:03 of the second period when RPI's Jeff Matthews--who moments earlier had gotten away with punching Martins--was whistled for a comparatively tame elbow. However, Harvard yet again gave away the advantage when Martins was called for holding.
RPI wasted little time capitalizing on a four-on-four situation midway through the second. Richardson won the ensuing face-off to an open Tim Regan who wristed the puck through Tracy's pads, extending the lead to 2-0.
Tracy refused to be discouraged by yet another pin-point RPI shot.
"Those goals were just the kind of goals that found holes," Tracy said. "I was in good position on them."
For the rest of the period it was Harvard that carried the play, only losing momentum temporarily when yet another Crimson power play was washed away with a penalty.
At 16:31 of the second period, Harvard's tenacity finally paid off on its fifth man advantage of the night.
Harvard's first goal came when catalyst Martins moved the puck back to Halfnight at the point. Halfnight immediately ripped a screaming slapper that Cohagan tipped by Tamburro.
Harvard kept the pressure on the rest of the period, only to be denied time and again by Tamburro, the biggest save coming on a Nielsen chance in close.
Tamburro continued to frustrate the Crimson in the third period, stoning the Crimson on two consecutive power plays. Finally, on its eighth power play of the game, the Crimson nabbed the equalizer in artistic fashion.
The beautiful goal was the result of a dynamic effort by Martins, who circled in from the blue line and moved the puck down to Cohagan at the side of the net. Cohagan wheeled in front and slid the puck across the crease to Brad Konik, who deposited it past the sprawling Tamburro.
Harvard continued to carry the play for the rest of the third period until Jason Karmanos was called for charging the goalie at 17:46, leaving the Crimson shorthanded until only 34 seconds remained. Harvard's penalty killers came up big as they have all season, holding off RPI and gaining some scoring chances of their own, before the horn sounded ending regulation.
Overtime seemed only fitting for the rubber match between two teams that had split their regular season matchups. A goal seemed imminent during a two-minute span that saw Tracy stop Jeff O'Connor on another breakaway, Tamburro rob Martins from the high slot and Tracy again stuff Matthews from in tight.
But the game-breaker was not in the cards for either team, as the contest ended in a 2-2 tie that allows tonight's game--barring another tie--to determine the series winner.
In completing the dramatic comeback, Harvard claimed a moral victory.
"It feels like a win coming back from two goals down," said coach Ronn Tomassoni, a 1980 RPI graduate. "I think we played a real solid hockey game. We're in good shape."
So the Crimson will skate into tonight's do-or-die matchup confident that it will win if it can avoid falling behind early.
"It'll take 60 minutes," said Tomassoni, referring to the necessity of putting together a complete game. "But I think we're going to wear them down."
In other ECAC playoff action last night, Princeton topped host Brown, 4-3, top-seeded Clarkson posted an easy 6-2 win over Cornell, and Vermont won at Colgate, 5-2. TIE, 2-2 at bright hockey Center RPI 0 2 0 0 -- 2 Harvard 0 1 1 0 -- 2
RPI--Tapper 4 (Richardson, O'Conner) 2:23.
RPI--Regan 9 (Richardson) 10:52.
Har--Cohagan 9 (Martins, Halfnight) 16:31.
Har--Konik 11 (Cohagan, Martins) 10:54.
Saves: Har--Tracy 4-6-9-1 20; RPI--Tamburro 10-11-10-1 32.
Power Play: H 2-9, R 0-7.
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