Prior to Friday, more than four months had elapsed since the Harvard men’s hockey team last trailed at the end of two periods within its own building. Yet by the time the zamboni took the ice for its second circuit during the Crimson's 2017 playoff opener, Harvard found itself down 4-3 to rival Yale in Game 1 of the ECAC quarterfinals.
At one point, the hosts had led 2-0. But in the words of Harvard coach Ted Donato ’91, the Crimson played “too loose," eventually falling behind for the first time at the Bright-Landry Hockey Center in more than 277 minutes of Alston action.
But with a perfect 11-0-2 home record to preserve, the conference favorites rose to the occasion in the game’s final frame, riding three unanswered third-period goals to a 6-4 come-from-behind victory. Now a winner of 11 straight games, No. 2 Harvard (23-5-2, 16-4-2) stands one game from punching its third ticket in as many seasons to the ECAC semifinals in Lake Placid, New York.
“I thought it was a good gut check for us coming into the third,” Donato said. “We had some guys step up, and we’re happy to get the win. We knew it was going to be a grind, and it was. Hopefully we’ll come out with a little better game tomorrow as far as our attention to detail and fundamentals.”
Capping a career night in which he logged a point on each of the Crimson’s first four scores, senior Sean Malone set up the final equalizer 48 seconds into the third period. The Buffalo Sabres draft pick skipped past third-pair defenseman Charlie Curti by the attacking blue line to set up a 2-on-1 with classmate and linemate Tyler Moy, who punched in his 17th goal of the season on Malone’s right.
With Harvard skating on the man advantage seven minutes later, co-captain Alexander Kerfoot tipped in the winner from sophomore goaltender Sam Tucker’s left post. Freshman defenseman Adam Fox’s point drive shot off the stick of the senior center straight for the top shelf.
Sophomore Lewis Zerter-Gossage would also fire a high-slot wrister into the top right corner at 7:49, but the Crimson’s first five goals were scored exclusively by Harvard’s most veteran class—the highest-scoring collection of seniors in the country. All three members of Donato’s second line of seniors—Malone, Moy, and Luke Esposito—finished plus-three, combining for a staggering nine points.
“As seniors, it’s our last kick of the can here,” Malone said. “We really wanted to emphasize hard work and everything, and we were able to show up on the scoresheet quite a bit. It’s a nice feeling.”
“I thought Sean Malone was flying tonight,” Donato said. “That line was so effective that it carried us through some mistakes that we made earlier in the game.”
Those mistakes initially erased the 2-0 Harvard edge that had been built up by Malone and Esposito over the opening 22 minutes. In a span of just 2:41, the Bulldogs (13-14-5, 7-11-4) lit the lamp three consecutive times midway through the second period to hand the Crimson its first home deficit since Jan. 21—when Harvard last met Yale at the Bright no less.
First, sophomore Joe Snively backhanded a loose puck into the cage from the side of the net on the power play at 8:03. About a minute later, senior Mike Doherty’s short-side wrister from the top of the slot beat the glove of junior Merrick Madsen (24 saves) to tie the game. And shortly thereafter, freshman Luke Stevens snuck onto the doorstep to knock in the Bulldogs’ third goal of the period.
“I just thought we were loose in a lot of areas and turned some pucks over,” Donato said. “I give Yale a lot of credit, but I think we enabled too much out there.”
Nonetheless, just as he did in Harvard’s aforementioned January matchup with Yale, Esposito generated an equalizer. The senior netted his second goal of the night from the low slot on the man advantage, tying the game at three with 3:59 to go in the second before going celebrating into the boards.
Less than a minute later, however, Snively too netted his second goal of the evening. Cherry-picking at the attacking blue line, the Bulldogs’ leading point-getter collected a zone-to-zone feed from junior defenseman Adam Larkin and walked in alone on Madsen, whom he beat with a wrister to put Yale back in front.
That 4-3 edge would carry into the second intermission, but the Crimson’s three-goal third put the hosts in position to potentially close out the series Saturday night. Any chance of a Bulldog comeback was effectively squashed with 2:40 remaining in regulation when senior Chris Izmirlian was sent to the box for interfering with Malone—a call Yale coach Keith Allain expressed his displeasure with from the bench. Allain declined to speak to reporters after the game.
The Bulldogs now need a win in the second game of the series Saturday night in order to not only keep their season alive, but also to avoid—at least for the time being—their first losing season in 10 years. Puck drop is set for just after 7 p.m.
- Yale actually scored the game's first goal 5:25 into the contest, only for it to be disallowed following a lengthy review. Sophomore fourth-liner JM Piotrowski found the cage from the vicinity of the right faceoff circle, but the goal was waved off for goalie interference because Madsen was in the process of pushing Bulldog freshman Will D'Orsi out of his crease just as the puck was flying towards the netminder.
- Harvard finished 2-for-7 on the power play, while Yale finished 1-for-3.
- After the game, both Donato and Malone brought up Harvard's two-week layoff as a potential factor behind why the Crimson did not jump out to the start it was after. "As much as you fight it... having the time off, you’re just not as sharp and you’re not ready to play as gritty and as competitive as you need to," Donato said.
- The Crimson saw Yale sophomore Sam Tucker in net for the first time Friday after senior Patrick Spano received the nod between the pipes in each of the teams' first two meetings this season.
- The Bright-Landry Hockey Center was at less than 60 percent of capacity on Friday, as attendance for Game 1 was listed at just 1,821—Harvard's second lowest mark of the entire season. The low turnout was not entirely surprising, however, given that Friday marked the start of spring break for Harvard undergraduates. When the same set of circumstances hovered over Game 1 of last year's ECAC quarterfinals, Harvard drew its lowest attendance number of the 2015-2016 campaign, as just 1,128 people turned out to see the Crimson top Rensselaer.
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