Monday, March 5, 2012

Men's Hockey - ECAC First Round (at Clarkson, 2/3/4 Mar)

The road continues to be kind to the Engineers, and this week, it provided them with their first playoff series victory in three years, just the second one in the past eight. Solid 5-1 and 4-1 victories over the arch-rivals from Clarkson bookended the longest game in RPI history - and the 6th longest in the history of college hockey - which saw the Engineers drop a 4-3 decision. Regardless of the "how," RPI moves on to the quarterfinal round, where they have a date with another rival who, like Clarkson, swept them this season - Union.

Game 1
Lee/McGowan/Schroeder
Cullen/Higgs/Tinordi
Neal/Laliberte/Haggerty
Rogic/Malchuk/O'Grady

Leonard/Bergin
Leboeuf/Bailen
Curadi/Dolan

Merriam

Marty O'Grady returned to the RPI lineup as expected, given that Seth Appert had said O'Grady would have played the previous week if the playoffs had been on at that point. Thanks to the success of the top three lines in Central New York, however, he returned on the fourth line, anchored by Joel Malchuk.

O'Grady's return was marred on his first shift, as he picked up a boarding call just 2:28 into the game to give Clarkson the game' s first power play, and a minute later the home team converted to go up 1-0.

A minute and a half later, it was Clarkson's turn on the penalty kill, and the Engineers took just 43 seconds to tie the game as Matt Tinordi notched his fifth goal of the season to tie the score, technically helped by a sixth attacker as the Golden Knights had drawn another penalty during the course of the penalty kill, which put RPI right back on the power play after tying the game.

With a blast from the point 49 seconds into the ensuing man advantage, Nick Bailen put the Engineers on top, scoring his sixth goal of the year. About three minutes later, again on the power play, Bailen scored number seven, making the Engineers three for their first three on the advantage and giving them a 3-1 lead, not even 10 minutes into the game.

Just ten seconds later, Clarkson was called for their fourth straight penalty, and Casey Jones called timeout to calm his team down. RPI was unsuccessful on the ensuing power play, but they did manage to score a fourth goal about 30 seconds after it expired, as Joel Malchuk threw the puck on net and saw it deflect in, putting the Engineers ahead 4-1 just 12:17 into the contest. It was the first time the Engineers had scored four goals in the first period since 2008.

Clarkson had a number of power play opportunities from that point on, including one late in the first and three in the second (two of which combined for a short five-on-three chance that could have pulled them back into things), but the RPI penalty kill stood strong, ultimately killing the last six opportunities that the Golden Knights had. RPI's power play, after starting out the night with three in a row, failed to score on their last seven opportunities, but four of them were truncated due to RPI penalties.

Jacob Laliberte picked up  his fifth goal of the season to put RPI up 5-1 late in the second period, and a penalty filled third period did not provide any additional scoring.  Notably, however, Mike Bergin was issued a game misconduct for a brutal hit with about two minutes left to play, which brought with it a major penalty, though the Engineers had been on the power play at the time, and Clarkson would draw another penalty a minute later, so the major never produced a power play for the Golden Knights.

For the second straight season, the Engineers had picked up a Game 1 victory in the first round of the playoffs.

Game 2
Lee/McGowan/Schroeder
Cullen/Higgs/Tinordi
Neal/Laliberte/Haggerty
Rogic/Malchuk/O'Grady

Leonard/Bergin
Leboeuf/Bailen
Curadi/Dolan

Merriam

If it's working, don't mess with it. That was the rationale behind RPI's Game 2 lineup, which featured no changes whatsoever from Friday's winning combination. The only bit of intrigue was whether C.J. Lee, who saw limited ice time in the first game after being injured in the first period while blocking a shot, would be ready to go, and he was.

Much as with the first game, Clarkson found themselves getting into penalty trouble early on. They successfully killed a two-man disadvantage of 54 seconds in the game's second minute, but couldn't kill their third penalty of the game as Lee scored his team-leading eighth goal of the season on the power play about a minute after RPI's third power play of the night got underway, putting RPI up 1-0.

Late in the first period, Clarkson picked up a 5-on-3 advantage of their own, and unlike the Engineers, the Golden Knights converted, scoring with just six seconds remaining in the two-man edge to tie the game at one, which is where things sat during the first intermission.

Patrick Cullen scored the game's first even strength tally about seven minutes into the second period, putting the Engineers back on top, 2-1, with his fifth goal of the campaign. RPI put a total of 11 shots on goal in the second period, but despite a power play midway through, they could not give themselves the insurance tally that they needed, but they did appear to be 20 minutes away from a sweep when they took that 2-1 lead into the locker room following the second period.

The catalyst for change was a bad hit from behind committed by C.J. Lee three minutes into the third. That sent Lee to the showers with a game misconduct and a five minute major. Just over three minutes into the long penalty kill, the Golden Knights converted to tie the game at two and send the game back to square one.

With nine minutes left in the period, it was Patrick Cullen converting for the second time in the game, giving the Engineers their third lead of the game, but like the other two, this also would not last. Clarkson scored once again on a turnover to tie things back up with 4:59 remaining in the game to bring things square for the third time, 3-3.

As both teams pushed for the winning goal late in the third period, Clarkson's Patrick Marsh laid a crushing hit on Zach Schroeder, and was assessed a five minute major for boarding and a game misconduct with just 24 ticks remaining in regulation. That set up a monumental spot as the Engineers headed into overtime with over 4:30 straight of power play time with which to score a potential game and series clinching goal.

Clarkson, however, played exceptionally well on the penalty kill in overtime - playing like their season depended on it, because it did - and successfully killed the entire penalty. It was a unique situation, because usually on majors you try to score as many goals as you can, but RPI had five minutes to score the game winner and couldn't.

That failure to end the game early ended up creating a situation that dragged the game on far longer than anyone had expected. RPI put 11 shots on goal in the first overtime period and another nine in the second overtime, but none got by Clarkson's Paul Karpowich. Bryce Merriam, on the other end, stopped six and nine shots in the respective periods.

Clarkson got an overtime power play of their own after Joel Malchuk was called for tripping 5:30 into the second overtime, but the penalty kill held up.

One of the quirks of the game was that, contrary to NCAA regulations that required the teams to switch sides for the first overtime (meaning that the goaltenders would be where they usually are for the second period), the teams never switched sides during the overtime periods, shooting on the same goals they shot at in the first and third periods throughout the extra hockey.

As the game entered the third overtime, it quickly became the longest game in both RPI and Clarkson's long and storied hockey histories. 

As time went by, play slowed and it became evident that the game was probably going to be won on a bounce, and it finally did 13:48 into the third overtime as Clarkson's Ben Sexton scored on a shot Bryce Merriam probably would have stopped 19 times out of 20, but the goal gave Clarkson new life and force a third game.

Game 3
Lee/McGowan/O'Grady
Cullen/Higgs/Tinordi
Neal/Laliberte/Haggerty
Angers-Goulet/Malchuk/Rogic

Leonard/Bergin
Leboeuf/Bailen
Curadi/Dolan

Merriam

Saturday's marathon necessitated a trio of changes, but not due to fatigue - only due to injury. Zach Schroeder was injured late in regulation on the hit that gave the Engineers their major power play in overtime, and without being ready to go on Sunday, Alex Angers-Goulet was given the call to suit up. Marty O'Grady moved up to the top line to replace the injured Schroeder, while Johnny Rogic moved from left to right to accomodate Angers-Goulet on the fourth line.

C.J. Lee had the benefit, via his third period game misconduct, of being relatively fresh compared to the rest of the team (with the obvious exception of Angers-Goulet). However, on the very first shift, he picked up a boarding call just 18 seconds in that put the Engineers on the penalty kill. That was killed off, and Clarkson managed to kill their only penalty of the first period, leaving the deciding game scoreless after one.

Brock Higgs, who managed to pick up a total of six minor penalties in the three games, was called for charging seven minutes into the second period, and Clarkson converted on the ensuing power play to take the vital 1-0 lead a minute later. But RPI did not back down. Five minutes later, an opportunistic shot by Nick Bailen on a one-timer from a Guy Leboeuf pass was redirected in front by Ryan Haggerty, who picked up his seventh goal of the year to tie the game at one.

That's where things were following the second period, but for the second straight night, a badly mistimed hit at the end of a period by Clarkson produced a potentially critical moment. Clarkson's Allan McPherson put Mike Bergin into the boards with a hit from behind in the waning moments, and was called for a major and a game misconduct at the 20:00, giving RPI a major power play with fresh ice for the second straight night.

Once more, the Clarkson penalty kill came out firing, keeping the Engineers from getting good opportunities for much of the major. But in the final minute, it was Mike Bergin, the man who drew the major in the first place, who stepped into the slot to fire home a pass from Brock Higgs, scoring his second goal of the year and putting the Engineers ahead for the first time, 2-1.

Unlike Saturday night, the Engineers managed to get the crucial insurance goal, and they wasted no time in doing so. Joel Malchuk scored after firing the puck on net with an opportunistic shot similar to Bailen's the night before, and this one deflected in off a Clarkson player to give the Engineers a 3-1 lead.

However, a pair of gut checks were still to come. Penalties to Higgs and Leboeuf would give Clarkson a short five-on-three with about eight minutes to play, but the Engineer penalty kill - led by Malchuk, Bergin, and Bailen - stood up and killed both penalties. Just over a minute later, penalties to Rogic and Bergin gave the Golden Knights another 5-on-3 of over a minute, and pulling Karpowich gave them a 6-on-3 to try and pull within one.

Bryce Merriam stood tall in net for a 30 second or so period that must have felt like an eternity with the overwhelming disparity in skaters, but was given a huge reprieve when Ben Sexton, the previous night's hero, was called for slashing. That brought things back down to a more manageable 4-on-3 power play, as Karpowich had to return for the ensuing faceoff in the Clarkson zone.

Marty O'Grady picked up an empty netter with about a minute and a half left in the game, technically a 4-on-4 goal to seal the win and the series for the Engineers.

Elsewhere on the weekend, Dartmouth swept St. Lawrence, while Yale and Quinnipiac moved on in three games over Princeton and Brown respectively. That set up a Route 7 showdown between RPI and Union in the quarterfinals for the right to move on to Atlantic City.

Other junk - This week's list of opponents on RPI's schedule who are ranked include #2 Ferris State (up one), #7 UMass-Lowell (up one), #8 Union (down one), #13 Cornell (no change), #17 Notre Dame (up one), and #18 Colorado College (up one). Also receiving votes were Harvard (26), Quinnipiac (26), and Colgate (11).


This is the fourth time that RPI and Union have met in the playoffs, each of the other three times have been in best-of-3 series. RPI has won six of the seven games against the Dutchmen, including six straight, outscoring Union 27-13 in the seven contests. They met in 1994, 1997, and 2003.


C.J. Lee leads the team in goals with eight, Brock Higgs in assists with 20, and Higgs is tied with Nick Bailen in points with 22.


ECAC Quarterfinals
#10 RPI at #1 Union
#9 Dartmouth at #2 Cornell
#6 Yale at #3 Harvard
#5 Quinnipiac at #4 Colgate

RPI at Clarkson
ECAC First Round, Game 1 - Cheel Arena  (Potsdam, NY)
3/2/12 - 7:00pm
RESULT:  RPI 5, Clarkson 1

BOX SCORES

RECAPS
RECORD: 11-21-3 (7-12-3 ECAC, 17 pts)

RPI at Clarkson
ECAC First Round, Game 2 - Cheel Arena  (Potsdam, NY)
3/3/12 - 7:00pm
RESULT:  Clarkson 4, RPI 3 (3 OT)

BOX SCORES

RECAPS

RECORD: 11-22-3 (7-12-3 ECAC, 17 pts)

RPI at Clarkson
ECAC First Round, Game 3 - Cheel Arena  (Potsdam, NY)
3/4/12 - 7:00pm
RESULT:  RPI 4, Clarkson 1

BOX SCORES

RECAPS
RECORD: 12-22-3 (7-12-3 ECAC, 17 pts)

Upcoming games
09 Mar - at #8 Union (ECAC Quarterfinals, Game 1)
10 Mar - at #8 Union (ECAC Quarterfinals, Game 2)
11 Mar - at #8 Union (ECAC Quarterfinals, Game 3, if necessary)
16 Mar - ECAC Semifinal (Atlantic City, NJ, if qualified)
17 Mar - ECAC Championship/Consolation (Atlantic City, NJ, if qualified)

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