The men’s hockey team survived St. Lawrence’s hardest hits, and now it can book its tickets to Atlantic City.

Yale (25–6–1, 17–4–1 ECAC) asserted its place as national title contender Sunday when it clinched a chance to play Colgate in the ECAC semifinals with a dominant 4–0 shutout of St. Lawrence (13–22–5, 6–15–1). The win capped a decisive Yale comeback after St. Lawrence upset the Elis on Friday. That loss in the opening game of the best-of-three series left Yale on the brink of its second early elimination from the ECAC tournament in two years. But the Bulldogs rallied and outscored the Saints 9–2 in the last two games of the series.

“We played with a sense of desperation,” Jimmy Martin ’11 said. “It’s what you have to do with your backs against the wall.”

Desperation was the word of the day in the ECAC, as all four quarterfinal series were decided in third games on Sunday. Yale was the only team that did not put its fans through agony. The conference’s other three contests were decided by a single goal, and two went to overtime.

One historic upset came out of those close games and will directly impact the Bulldogs’ quest for their second tournament championship in three years. In a contest between the ECAC’s first- and last-place teams, scrappy Colgate shook off three separate one-goal deficits to gut out an unprecedented victory over Union. No last-place team has ever advanced to the tournament semifinals before.

The streaking Raiders have recovered from a miserable start to the season, and have looked like a new team since February. They have tripled their win count since beating Clarkson on Feb. 5, with eight in their past 13 games. That stretch includes a 6–3–1 record against the four nationally ranked teams in the ECAC.

But Yale has also been hot lately.

“There isn’t any margin for error against a team like this,” St. Lawrence head coach Joe Marsh said. “It seemed to me that every time we broke down, the puck was in the back of the net.”

The Elis found the back of the net quickly Sunday. St. Lawrence got in penalty trouble early, and Chris Cahill ’11 made sure the visitors paid the price when he corralled a loose puck in the crease and tapped it past goaltender Matt Weninger just 2:41 into the game.

Penalties continued to haunt the Saints when a power play goal from Brian O’Neill ’12 made the score 2–0 just five minutes later. Nonetheless, the underdogs did not let up the physical play that hurt them early in the game. The two teams exchanged rough hits all game, and tempers started to boil in the third period as the Saints watched the game slip out of reach.

“Emotionally, with both teams hanging on for dear life, things got a little messy,” Marsh said.

After the mounting tension peaked late in the third period when a vicious hit by St. Lawrence’s Jacob Drewiske sparked a tussle on center ice, Marsh called a timeout which he said was an attempt to settle his team. The 24 penalty minutes — including a 10-minute misconduct to Charles Brockett ’12 — that resulted from the confrontation were more than had been issued in the entire first game. The 56 total penalty minutes issued Sunday were more than had been issued in the first two games combined.

“Guys don’t forget hits,” Denny Kearney ’11 said Saturday.

Kearney, along with linemates Broc Little ’11 and Kevin Limbert ’12, was instrumental throughout the series. The trio combined for 17 points over the weekend, including Yale’s last two goals and five points on Sunday.

The line had suffered through a scoring drought late in the season, but Allain said they were the team’s leading force against St. Lawrence.

“They were our best line all weekend,” Allain said. “That’s what’s special about this team. It seems like each and every weekend we get a new group of heroes.”

Kearney and Little were not the only seniors who anchored the team. Netminder Ryan Rondeau ’11 made 21 saves as he tied a Yale single-season record with his fourth shutout. The team also set a school record with its 25th victory of the season.

The Elis will get the chance to extend that record even further when they take on Colgate on Friday and — win or lose — play in NCAA regionals in Bridgeport the following week.

“It doesn’t get much better than this,” Allain said.