A four-game winning streak and the return of defenseman Bryan Freeman ’04 were not enough to keep the Bulldogs afloat in the postseason, as for the second consecutive year the Elis were swept from the first round of the ECAC playoffs.
Ninth-ranked Cornell (25-7-2, 17-3-2 ECAC) showed the Bulldogs (10-19-2, 9-11-2 ECAC) the early exit with a commanding 4-2 win Mar. 9, just 24 hours after the Big Red squeaked by with a 2-1 victory. The Bulldogs peppered Big Red goaltender Matt Underhill with a total of 40 shots over the weekend, but only found the back of the net three times against the top-ranked Cornell defense.
The Elis entered the weekend on the upswing, still giddy after a four-game winning streak and their last-minute leap over Union for the final playoff spot.
“We knew we had a tough game and a tough series to play, but we believed in ourselves,” Taylor said.
Trailing 3-1 in the third period of the second game, the power of self-confidence was wearing thin for the Bulldogs. With less than two minutes separating the squad from elimination, the Elis went to the power play for one last shot at resuscitating a season spent on the ropes. Taylor pulled goaltender Dan Lombard ’02 to generate a two-man advantage at the other end of the ice.
The Bulldogs continued to buzz around the Big Red net until Cornell defenseman Travis Bell cleared the puck from the zone. The disc trickled down the ice before finding the back of the net to ice the game and the series for the Big Red.
Winger Nick Deschenes ’03, who was playing in just his fourth game back from a leg injury, would add one last score with two seconds remaining in the game. By then, however, the Lynah Rink faithful were already crowding the zamboni doors to storm the ice in celebration.
Less than three minutes into the opening game of the series the Elis seemed destined for a longer postseason life. With the rowdy Lynah crowd not yet settled from the drama of the opening face-off, the Bulldogs’ explosive offensive duo of winger Chris Higgins ’05 and captain Luke Earl ’02 put the Elis on the scoreboard first. Higgins collected a pass from Earl just inside the blue line and skated to the right circle where he fired a low wrister that squeezed between Underhill’s stick and the post.
At the other end of the ice, Lombard, who faced 51 shots over the weekend, kept the Elis on top with a clutch stop midway through the first period. Cornell captain Stephen Baby broke in all alone on the Eli net minder, but Lombard managed to get a pad on Baby’s shot.
“He was awesome,” winger Denis Nam ’03 said of Lombard. “It gave us a lot more confidence playing in front of him.”
But even with all the confidence that Lombard inspired, the Bulldogs could not keep the Big Red off the board forever, and 15 minutes into the second period Cornell got their first tally.
The Big Red pulled ahead for good when, with less than three minutes remaining in the period, the Bulldogs fumbled the puck at the blue line on the power play. In a sequence of events emblematic of the Bulldogs unlucky season, Big Red defenseman Matt Murray collected the puck and skated inside the Bulldog blue line before firing a wrister that whistled under Lombard’s glove side arm.
“We were hoping for the right bounce of the puck and we just didn’t get it,” Taylor said.
With the season now completed and six months separating the Bulldogs from their next contest, there will be plenty of time to reflect on a season that played with the hearts and minds of the Eli faithful.
“This season, a lot of games could have gone either way,” said Nam, who finished the season with 12 points. “But we definitely have nothing to hang our heads about.”