You can outskate. You can outshoot. You can play 16 deadlocked minutes of overtime. But close doesn’t count in hockey.

Although Jimmy Martin ’11 scored two goals and Yale began the third period with a 3–1 lead, the Elis succumbed to a late comeback from upstart St. Lawrence (13–20–5, 6–15–1 ECAC). The Saints rode the hot goaltending of Matt Weninger and two goals — including the game-winner — from freshman standout Greg Carey to a 4–3 overtime victory. The defeat leaves the Bulldogs (23–6–1, 17–4–1) a single loss away from ECAC tournament elimination.

“To me, the game was lost in the second period,” head coach Keith Allain ’80 said. “We had a 3–1 lead and we had a number of opportunities to make it 4–1, and didn’t execute.”

The Elis took the ice at Ingalls Rink Friday night as the only team in the country undefeated at home. They were the No. 3 team in the country and No. 1 in the PairWise system. They were the top-scoring team in the nation. They had not lost in their past five games. Their last loss, a full month before, had come against a mediocre team stuck at the bottom of the ECAC standings. A mediocre team called St. Lawrence.

The Saints, who had already shocked the college hockey world with a surprise victory over Princeton in the first round of the ECAC tournament, kept the fairy tale alive Friday night. They took full advantage of a series of favorable bounces, especially on their opening goal less than a minute into the game. Pat Raley’s shot from just past center ice gave the Saints a 1–0 lead when it took a strange hop and skittered through the legs of Yale goaltender Ryan Rondeau ’11 and into the net.

“We got some breaks, there’s no doubt about it,” St. Lawrence head coach Joe Marsh said. “We’re playing loose. The guys just want to keep playing. We know we’re living on borrowed time.”

The Saints’ energy and excitement showed after Carey redirected a pass from linemate Kyle Flanagan across the goal line 16:28 into the overtime period. The Saints piled on top of the hero, while Rondeau and crestfallen defensemen Ken Trentowski ’11 and Nick Jaskowiak ’12 — who were on the ice for the final goal — watched the celebrating visitors in disbelief.

The loss leaves Yale with a one-game deficit it will have to overcome to advance to the ECAC semifinals in Atlantic City. It also awakened ghosts of Yale’s 2010 fiasco against another mediocre team, Brown, in the ECAC quarterfinals. The Bears, like the Saints this year, were the second-worst team in the conference. But they caught fire in the playoffs, and upset Yale 3–2 in the first game of the quarterfinal series, before eliminating the heavy favorites in three games.

The Bulldogs’ ability to outplay — but not outscore — St. Lawrence further conjured images of the loss to Brown. Allain insists that Yale dominated seven of nine periods of hockey against Brown last year. But only goals determine the outcome of tournaments. And although Yale gave a solid effort Friday night and outshot St. Lawrence 11–6 in the overtime period alone, both Brown and now the Saints have proved that the winner on the ice is not always the winner on the scoreboard.

“I don’t think we played a bad game,” Martin said. “There were times when we let our focus off a bit, but I don’ think that was an issue. St. Lawrence is an opportunistic team and they buried a few chances.”

Yale certainly seemed to take control after Raley opened the scoring with his fluke goal. The Elis converted on their first three power play opportunities and headed into the locker room at the end of the second period with a 3–1 lead.

“Our bright spot this year was the penalty kill, so when they scored on their first three, I said ‘Oh boy,’” Marsh said. “But after that, we settled down.”

Indeed, Yale could not muster any more offense. Although it continued to fire pucks on net, Saints goalie Matt Weninger kept his team within two goals. He denied both Brian O’Neill ’12 and Broc Little ’11 on breakaways and finished with 31 saves, including 17 in the third period and overtime.

“I just wanted to play well enough to give the guys an opportunity to win, and that’s mission accomplished tonight,” he said.

Weninger’s teammates made sure that his performance stood. Aaron Bogosian narrowed the deficit to 3–2 when he threw his own rebound at the net, and Carey notched the equalizer with a shot into the top corner that knocked Rondeau’s water bottle off the top of the net. Carey’s second goal off Flanagan’s pass in overtime finished off the comeback and cued the first game-ending celebration by a visiting team on the Ingalls Rink ice this season.

The Elis’ postgame body language screamed disappointment, but one loss to St. Lawrence does not spell the end of the Elis’ ECAC tournament ambitions. The quarterfinals are a best-of-three series, so Yale must lose to the Saints once more to be eliminated. It must beat them twice in a row to earn a ticket to Atlantic City.

The next tilt between the two teams will begin fewer than 24 hours after the first finished, and both Allain and Rondeau said the Bulldogs must put the loss behind them.

“The game’s over, and you just move on to the next one,” Rondeau said. “It’s the same approach as the regular season — you just don’t worry about it and move on.”