With a fast and furious third period in the Friday night opener of the best-of-three ECAC Quarterfinals series against Brown, the men’s hockey team fought its way into its first overtime game of the season.
But once they began the extra period, the Bulldogs lost their momentum, and Brett Robinson’s score 9:40 into the overtime period gave Brown the 4-3 victory and put the Elis’ backs against the wall for Satruday night’s game.
“We’ve got to brush ourselves off and play a better game [Saturday] night,” Yale head coach Tim Taylor said. “That’s what series are all about –- rebounding.”
In a weak start to the second period, the Bulldogs spotted Brown a pair of goals in the first six minute to give the visitors at 3-1 lead. But Yale held the Bears scoreless for nearly 44 minutes after that, and managed to tie the game up at 3 apiece off goals from center Chris Higgins ’05 and winger Christian Jensen ’06.
“We were pretty excited to play overtime,” Higgins said. “It’s the best time to play hockey, and we have a lot of pressure-players–guys who step up when it counts.”
In the sudden-death period, it was a Bear who stepped up first. Botched attempts to clear by defenseman Stacey Bauman ’03 and center Ryan Steeves ’04 allowed Brown’s Les Haggett to gain control of the puck and thread a precise pass to Robinson, who hesitated long enough to force Yale goalie Josh Gartner down low.
“I knew I had some time because their D was caught up at the blue line and I was behind them,” Robinson said. “I took my time, took a look up, and saw the opening.”
Robinson wristed the puck high over Gartner’s shoulder, clearing the Brown bench and dealing the Bulldogs the loss.
“I told the guys, hey, if someone had told you in the beginning of the season you’d be playing overtime in the second round of the playoffs, you’d take it,” Brown head coach Roger Grillo said. “So go take advantage of it.”
After not having played for two weeks because of earning a first-round bye, the Bulldogs came out sluggish and Brown struck first as Cory Caouette tipped in a shot from the point amidst a lot of traffic in front of Gartner. Yale players protested that there had been Bears in the crease, but the call on the ice stood.
Vin Hellemeyer ’04 tied the game at one with a wristshot from high in the slot, but the 1-1 tie at the first intermission was quickly erased 37 seconds into the second period by Paul Esdale, who received a good 2-on-1 pass from Chris Legg, deked once, and backhanded the puck over Gartner’s shoulder.
Six minutes into the second, Gartner kick-saved a shot by Legg right to Heggett, who capitalized on the rebound opportunity to increase Brown’s lead to two.
A low-angle shot by Higgins, who had a defender hanging on him, cut Brown’s lead in half. Higgins grabbed the puck in the Yale zone and completed a give-and-go with Hellemeyer for his 20th goal of the year.
“I think the quickness surprised [Brown goaltender Yann Danis,]” Higgins said. “It wasn’t the hardest shot.”
Danis, who came up with a number of big saves and covered most of the pucks in order to force faceoffs, finished with 41 stops, and Gartner had a good game of his own, ending with 31.
Yale got a big break at the end of the second period after Gartner left the net to challenge Legg on a breakaway. Legg deked past the Yale goalie, but his shot on the open net hit the post and kept Yale only a goal away.
“We were a little flat after we missed that breakaway,” Grillo said.
The third period belonged to Yale, who outshot Brown 16-6 in that frame, with the most important shot belonging to Jensen. The rookie grabbed the puck off the boards and skated in between the circle before pulling a 360-turnaround move and releasing the puck off his forehand high and over a surprised Danis.
“We know Danis is a good goalie and whenever he’s in trouble he’s got the low covered,” Jensen said. “So I tried to get it up high.”
After Jensen’s goal, the Bulldogs were unable to capitalize on several chances in the final minutes that could have prevented the overtime. And by the time the exra period rolled around, they had lost most of their touch.
“We didn’t get going,” Taylor said. “I think everyone on both teams knows this game could have gone either way.”
The Elis will get a chance for revenge Saturday night when they play Brown in the second game of the series. Taylor noted that while the Canadian players on his team are relatively used to playing series against the same team, most of the American players have not had as much experience in multiple-game sets.
But the American-born Jensen has the right mentality for the do-or-die contest.
“We gotta go get ’em tomorrow,” he said. “If we win these next two, tonight doesn’t matter.”