With less than 12 minutes left in the third period of Saturday night’s men’s hockey game, things were not looking too good for the Bulldogs. No. 5 Yale was down 4–1, the Elis were tiring, and the atmosphere in Ingalls Rink was deflating as the ECAC bottom-dweller Clarkson squad continued to defuse Eli attempts to get back in the game.

Clarkson netminder Paul Karpowich looked unbeatable and nearly single-handedly kept the Golden Knights in the game with a career-high 51 saves. What seemed to be the decisive moment for Yale rolled around with a 5-on-3 opportunity. The Bulldogs slashed away at the net trying to undo their three-goal deficit. But the Elis could not find the net with the two-man advantage, and the power-play line left the ice visibly frustrated after two minutes.

All seemed lost for Yale’s hopes of continuing a five-game winning streak and, as I looked around the Whale, I silently willed people to stay and wait out the final minutes of the game. It was a lesson I learned early and one that most people watching the game Saturday also seemed to appreciate — it ain’t over till it’s over.

I knew from watching, writing and reading about this team over the past four seasons that the Elis were the kind of team capable of making the comeback that ends up being told and retold as months and years go by. That’s what they did last year in the ECAC Championship Tournament in Albany, N.Y., when they scored two goals in 22 seconds with barely a minute and a half left on the clock to shock St. Lawrence in the semifinals. They had also come back from a four-goal third-period deficit against Colgate earlier on in the season before winning in overtime.

“I think those two games last year definitely helped us this year,” right winger Broc Little ’11 said. “I think it’s just never giving up. We believe we can come back from almost anything.”

Right defenseman Jimmy Martin ’11 said the team’s ability to play its game consistently has been Yale’s strong point in tough games. The Elis have good speed and the ability to find each other in tough spots on the ice, and that style of play is what makes the difference, players said.

“I think we’ve jus gotten used to playing within ourselves and within our system and sticking to our system — even if it hasn’t worked for the first 50 minutes,” Martin said.

The Bulldogs hadn’t repeated such late-game heroics since coming back against Colgate — until Friday night.

With 7:32 remaining in the third period, the home team kicked off a comeback for the ages. Little crossed the puck to center Mark Arcobello ’10, whose shot deflected to left winger Denny Kearney ’11. Kearney took advantage of the out-of-position Clarkson netminder for a short-range put-back to give the home fans some hope.

With the crowd back in the game, the Bulldogs were gaining momentum. But the ever present clock reminded them, and the sell-out crowd at the Whale, that a 4–2 score still spelled defeat.

Thirty-seven seconds later, center Andrew Miller ’13 found left winger Jeff Anderson ’11 on a cross into the crease to narrow the lead to just one with a power play goal.

By now the Whale was rocking. Everyone, save the Clarkson band and a handful of supporters, was on their feet, and the YPMB’s traditional chorus of “Bulldog Bulldog” was barely audible over the cheering for Anderson’s goal.

As the goal was still being announced only 14 seconds later, Kearney fought for control of the puck and connected with Little, who flipped the puck up above Karpowich’s left leg to incite bedlam at the rink and tie the game just 51 seconds after Kearney’s tally.

Little leapt into the air in front of the glass as the Bulldogs celebrated his second goal of the night and the shot that would send them into overtime. The joy on the ice was only matched by the joy in the stands as the cheers grew deafening, the ground shook and the glass rattled.

“It was just so quick and the momentum shifted,” Kearney said. “This year we’ve been scoring goals in bunches, and once we get one, we can get a couple more after that. No lead is too big to overcome.”

Just 51 seconds and the Elis had the game in their hands. Less than a minute and the lackluster performance in the 5-on-3 was erased, the subdued crowd became euphoric.

The only thing that stood in the way of a hard-fought win for the Bulldogs was a five minute overtime period.

By then, no one would dare leave Ingalls, and those who had must have been wishing they hadn’t.

Fortunately for Yale, Little was not finished scoring yet. A hat trick eluded the junior forward in the game against Dartmouth on Feb. 5,but Saturday was the night when anything could happen.

Looking a bit weary from the long game, the Bulldogs fended off a few drives from the Knights before Kearney swept an inside pass across the crease to Little, who ended the game with a shot into the upper left corner of the net to complete his hat trick.

As he raced across the ice to meet the rest of his team, the crowd got even louder. Teammates mobbed Little in front of the student section, knocking him to the ice in celebration.

“After I scored, I just got really excited,” Little said. “I jumped into [the crowd] of teammates, and everyone was just going nuts.”

Walking out of the Whale for the last regular season game, I couldn’t stop smiling. It was a fantastic comeback, one of the best I’ve seen in person, and the same probably goes for most of the 1,500 people at the rink that night.

But the best part is, this team has done it before, and they can do it again. True, it was an amazing game and huge feat to accomplish in a tough game. But the Yale hockey team is fifth in the country for a reason. The Bulldogs know what it takes to win, and they have the heart and the talent to put away three goals in 51 seconds then come out strong in overtime and beat a team that thought it had won 15 minutes earlier.

Yogi Berra was right: “It ain’t over till it’s over.”

Brittany Golob is a senior in Ezra Stiles College and a former Sports editor for the News.