Courtesy of Steve Musco

The Yale men’s hockey team closed its regular season in disappointing fashion, falling short of a comeback against Quinnipiac before turning in a lackluster performance against Princeton in its final regular-season game.

The Bulldogs (11–13–5, 7–11–4 ECAC Hockey) lost to the Bobcats (19–13–2, 13–8–1) for the 10th straight time, having  fallen to their cross-town rivals every game since the 2013 NCAA Championship. After a 3–2 defeat in Hamden, the Elis traveled to face the Tigers (13–13–3, 8–11–3) in a game that proved highly significant to the final ECAC standings. Yale’s 4–1 loss handed Princeton the seventh seed in the conference, dropping Yale down to eighth place — the last spot to get home ice for the playoffs.

“[It was a] disappointing weekend with the two losses,” defender Matt Foley ’20 said. “Against Quinnipiac, we started a bit slow, and they took advantage of that. … We did a good job of shaking off the first and playing well the rest of the way, [but] unfortunately, that wasn’t enough to erase the bad start. Heading into playoffs, a big focus of ours will be about playing a whole 60 minutes, [because] when we’re playing our game the right way and hard, we are a tough team to beat.”

The Bulldogs, whose reckless play and 18 penalty minutes at Ingalls Rink against the Bobcats on Feb. 4 facilitated their 5–2 loss, once again got themselves into penalty trouble against Quinnipiac on Friday. It took just 70 seconds before the Elis were whistled for an infraction, and the Bobcats jumped the board after less than a minute on the player advantage. The same situation repeated itself just two minutes later, when halfway through the first period, the Bulldogs were without a shot on goal and behind 2–0 after allowing two power play scores.

The Bobcats topped off a dominant first period, one of Yale’s worst of the year, with a third goal coming with 51 seconds to play in the frame. Yale managed to bounce back in convincing fashion in the second period, however, with an early goal from captain and forward John Hayden ’17 and a late goal from forward Evan Smith ’20. The freshman followed up a great chance by kicking the rebound to his stick and scoring while falling to the ice to make it 3–2 heading into the third.

Goaltender Sam Tucker ’19, who earned the start after a strong week of practice, kept the Bulldogs in contention for the final two periods, making some impressive stops on the penalty kill and on breakaway opportunities for the Bobcats. However, Bobcat netminder Andrew Shortridge held just as steadily on the opposite end, holding Yale scoreless in the final stanza to deny the Elis an equalizer and finalize the 3–2 win.

“We really stuck with our game plan even though the first period didn’t go our way,” Smith said. “We came out flying and took control for those [final] two periods. We stuck together as a team and competed in all three zones of the ice. [Now] we really need to focus on playing … as hard as we possibly can every shift we get out there.”

Heading into the game against Princeton, the Bulldogs sat just one point ahead of the Tigers in the ECAC standings after the Tigers beat Brown for two points the night before. A Yale loss and a Dartmouth win over Clarkson would have left both teams with 18 points, and the Big Green would have sent the Elis on the road for the first round of the playoffs with the tiebreaker.

But even with a home series clinch on the line, the Bulldogs turned in another uninspired performance against Princeton: Just like in their previous matchup this season against the Tigers, Yale was outplayed and outworked.

Princeton grabbed the early lead, scoring just 3:12 into the first period on netminder Patrick Spano ’17. A goal by forward Joe Snively ’19 on the man advantage tied the score less than five minutes later, a relief for a Yale power play that had been held scoreless through 13 opportunities in its previous three games.

However, that proved to be all the offense the Elis could muster. Princeton scored once again in the first, and after a goal less than a minute into the final period, the Tigers netted a fourth insurance goal halfway through the frame, putting the game away in decisive 4–1 fashion.

With its two points, Princeton surpassed the Bulldogs in the standings and took Yale’s playoff fate out of its own hands. A Clackson victory over Dartmouth, however, secured a Bulldog return to Ingalls Rink next weekend to host the Big Green in a rematch of the series that knocked Yale out of the ECAC playoffs last season.

“We need to go into this weekend with more passion and energy,” forward Andrew Gaus ’19 said. “It’s a do-or-die weekend for us, so we have to come to the rink with our swagger and confidence in order to beat a good team such as Dartmouth. I think if we get back to our basics and correct a few small details, we can have a great weekend and start a run towards [the NCAA tournament in] Lake Placid.”

Dartmouth is the only team that Yale has held scoreless this season, with both Spano and Tucker recording 7–0 and 4–0 shutouts against the Big Green in 2016–17. The Elis also won both regular season games against Dartmouth last season before the squad swept the team out of the playoffs.