One step forward, one step back.
The No. 6 Bulldogs (12–6–3, 8–4–2 ECAC) took a share of first place in the ECAC after their 4–3 victory over No. 18 Union on Friday but quickly fell back into a three-way tie for second place after a stunning 4–0 loss to seventh-place Rensselaer the next night. It was the second time this season that Yale’s nation-leading offense was shut out.
On Friday, the Bulldog forwards were out in full force, controlling the flow of the game and out-shooting Union’s Dutchmen 40–25 in front of a sold-out Ingalls Rink crowd.
“They’re such a good team that we wanted to make sure that we were skating at our best, right from the get-go,” head coach Keith Allain ’80 said.
In what was a showdown between the league’s top two offenses, three of the first four shots of the game landed in the back of the net.
Forty-five seconds into the game, the Bulldogs took the 1–0 lead after right-winger Sean Backman ’10 got the puck off of a deflection, deked and scored on a backhand shot.
Two minutes later, though, Union’s Luke Cain intercepted a pass in the Yale zone, turned and got the puck past Eli netminder Nick Maricic ’13.
The Bulldogs regained the lead at 5:56 when center Andrew Miller ’13 dumped the puck off to left-winger Brian O’Neill ’12, whose shot right in front of goal made it 2–1.
The Dutchmen tied it at two, early in the second period, but Yale took control of the game with 11 minutes left in the second period. There was a tie-up in front of the RPI goal, but center Brendan Mason ’11 managed to get the puck into the net. Play was stopped for about five minutes, as the referee looked at a video replay before ruling it a goal.
“I just drove my body in through [the pile],” Mason said. “I think it went up my stick and off my leg … It didn’t hit my skate, so if they had called it back, I would have been pretty worked up.”
After Yale had been zero-for-six with an extra man on the ice, Mason scored a power-play goal after gathering a rebound. It was Mason’s first career two-goal night. His goal made the score 4–2, seven minutes into the third period.
Things got interesting in the final minute of play when Union scored at 18:59 to make it 4–3. The Dutchmen pulled their goalie in the final minute but were not able to get anything else past Maricic.
Although Maricic came out shaky — the Dutchmen scored two goals off of their first four shots — he settled down and made some impressive saves down the stretch. Late in the second period, he made a glove save while he was still face-down on the ice from making a save seconds before.
“You look at the shot clock, and it’s easy to say that he wasn’t that busy, but … I thought he did a great job fighting through traffic,” Allain said. “We killed three penalties in the last  minutes, and he did a great job of keeping the puck in front of him.”
It was enough for Allain to give Maricic the starting spot the following day. It was the first time since November that Maricic, who has been swapping time with Jeff Malcolm ’13, had started both games in a single weekend this season. After Saturday’s game, Allain would not say if he had chosen Maricic to be the regular starter.
Saturday’s sold out crowd saw a far different Yale team. The Elis were outshot for the first time in six games and gave RPI a total of nine power plays. Earlier this season the Engineers trounced Yale 5–2.
The Bulldogs, whose 21.4 percent power play conversion rate ranks eighth in the nation, were scoreless on their seven power-play opportunities.
“We just weren’t good enough,” Allain said. “Obviously our power play wasn’t very effective. I don’t think we tested the goaltender very much.”
RPI took the early 1–0 lead eight minutes into the game and outshot the Elis 11–5 in the first period, breaking Yale’s 15-period streak of not being outshot.
The Bulldogs seemed to have reversed the flow in the second period, outshooting the Engineers 12–4 and recording numerous scoring opportunities. But it all came to a crashing halt when RPI scored a goal with less than two minutes left in the second period, seconds after RPI’s power play had ended.
“We didn’t have a very good first period,” Allain said. “We came back and were better in the second, and then they get that goal late after we’ve just had a nice penalty kill and we didn’t respond very well to that.”
Early in the third period, Backman had what looked to be a promising one-on-one breakaway, but the puck was hit away by a lunging defenseman.
Then, two minutes into the third period, the Engineers put it out of reach at 3–0 when they scored a shorthanded goal breakaway, with the deflected puck bouncing over the fallen Maricic. An RPI goal at 4:47 finished the game’s scoring.
Defenseman Tom Dignard ’10, who missed half of last season because of an injury, also missed both games over the weekend due to injury. He did not specify the details of the injury but said it is not related to the ruptured spleen he suffered last season.
The result pushed the Engineers up to a fifth-place tie in the ECAC, while Yale is now tied for second place in the conference, two points behind conference leader No. 8 Cornell.
RPI coach Seth Appert said the result emphasizes just how tough the competition in the ECAC is this year. Five teams are within five points of Cornell.
“I think top-to-bottom we have the toughest league in the country,” Appert said. “Maybe we don’t have the teams that are in the top-five, but I think we are loaded with teams that can merge in with the six through 20 level of hockey.”
The Bulldogs next hit the ice Friday night against Dartmouth at 7 p.m. at Ingalls Rink.