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Big Green Put on the Brink

Harvard’s Win Throws Dartmouth’s Season in Jeopardy

  • Dartmouth forward Matt Lindblad and Harvard defenseman Brendan Rempel exchange first-period pleasantries during last night’s ECAC first-round playoff opener at Thompson Arena. Referee Scott Whittemore is at right. (Valley News - Tris Wykes)

    Dartmouth forward Matt Lindblad and Harvard defenseman Brendan Rempel exchange first-period pleasantries during last night’s ECAC first-round playoff opener at Thompson Arena. Referee Scott Whittemore is at right. (Valley News - Tris Wykes) Purchase photo reprints »

  • Dartmouth forward Connor Dempsey fights through the clutches of Harvard defenseman Desmond Bergin last night during the teams’ ECAC first-round playoff series opener at Thompson Arena. (Valley News - Tris Wykes)

    Dartmouth forward Connor Dempsey fights through the clutches of Harvard defenseman Desmond Bergin last night during the teams’ ECAC first-round playoff series opener at Thompson Arena. (Valley News - Tris Wykes) Purchase photo reprints »

  • Dartmouth College wing Dustin Walsh awaits a second-period faceoff during last night's ECAC first-round playoff game against Harvard at Thompson Arena. (Valley News - Tris Wykes)

    Dartmouth College wing Dustin Walsh awaits a second-period faceoff during last night's ECAC first-round playoff game against Harvard at Thompson Arena. (Valley News - Tris Wykes) Purchase photo reprints »

  • Dartmouth forward Matt Lindblad and Harvard defenseman Brendan Rempel exchange first-period pleasantries during last night’s ECAC first-round playoff opener at Thompson Arena. Referee Scott Whittemore is at right. (Valley News - Tris Wykes)
  • Dartmouth forward Connor Dempsey fights through the clutches of Harvard defenseman Desmond Bergin last night during the teams’ ECAC first-round playoff series opener at Thompson Arena. (Valley News - Tris Wykes)
  • Dartmouth College wing Dustin Walsh awaits a second-period faceoff during last night's ECAC first-round playoff game against Harvard at Thompson Arena. (Valley News - Tris Wykes)

Hanover — What was once one of the most promising seasons in the recent history of the Dartmouth College men’s hockey team is now one loss away from an inglorious ending. The Big Green staggered to the edge of playoff elimination last night by losing to Harvard, 2-1, during the teams’ best-of-three, ECAC first-round series opener at Thompson Arena.

The Crimson’s Brian Hart silenced virtually all in an announced crowd of 2,217 when he picked the pocket of defenseman Ryan Bullock just outside the Dartmouth blue line, then skated at an angle toward goaltender Cab Morris and scored on his own rebound with three minutes to play.

“A big-time goal,” said Harvard coach Ted Donato, whose team finished last in the 12-team ECAC, but has lost only twice in its last nine games. “A highly skilled play. Hart was slashing across the ice, just out of the eyesight of their defenseman and he was able to lift his stick and got a 2-on-1 break.”

With a defender sliding to the ice in front of him, Hart chose to rifle the puck at the net, watching it carom off Morris’ shoulder. The biscuit landed atop the crease and Hart, who never slowed in following his shot, gathered it on his backhand before smoothly raising his stick to the other side and flicking in the winning shot.

Said Hart: “I was trying to shoot top right, but the rebound took a nice bounce and I was happy to be able to bring it across.”

Dartmouth, which fell to 13-12-5, has won just five of 18 games since beating No. 2 New Hampshire in late December and climbing to No. 8 in the national polls. Talk of the program’s first trip to the NCAA tournament since 1980 has changed to worried chatter that the Big Green might not even reach a league quarterfinal series.

“They got a break, and give them credit for capitalizing on it,” said Dartmouth coach Bob Gaudet. “I think it was one of the better games we’ve played. We had great chances but we weren’t able to bury them.”

Dartmouth, which finished fifth during the regular season and narrowly missed earning a first-round bye, held a 40-24 shot advantage and had numerous scoring chances, especially during the third period. Gaudet said his message to his team for tonight’s second game will be to keep up the pressure in hopes of finding a way to solve Crimson goaltender Raphael Girard.

“I thought we had the puck a lot of the night, and I can’t be upset at the guys,” said Gaudet, whose team hit the post twice during the final stanza. “We’ve got to continue to get pucks to the net and then get there. We have to fight through the traffic and the clutch and the grab and find a way to bury it.

“On another night, I think we have four (goals). I don’t think we have to change anything drastically, we just have to change the outcome.”

Harvard (10-17-3) opened the scoring 10 minutes into the second period when Desmond Bergin cranked in a slap shot from the left point.

Dartmouth forged a 1-1 tie midway through the third period off a rush. Tim O’Brien’s shot from the right circle kicked off Girard’s leg pad and onto the stick of Jesse Beamish, who nudged it home from the far side of the crease, a reward for his hustle to stay a stride ahead of backchecking opponent Luke Greiner, who slammed his stick against the rink glass in frustration.

Dartmouth pulled Morris for an extra skater with a minute remaining and buzzed throughout Harvard’s end until the final horn. Donato anticipates another nip-and-tuck battle tonight.

“We expect the intensity that was in tonight’s third period to be there in all three periods tomorrow,” the coach said.

Notes: Dartmouth played without ailing defenseman Andy Simpson. Gaudet said it’s unlikely the sophomore will return this weekend. … Dartmouth dropped out of the national top 20 this week for the first time since early November. … Harvard finished last in the league for the first time in program history. … The teams’ current match is only their second postseason series during more than 50 years of ECAC play, but the Crimson holds a 6-2 record in all playoff games against the Big Green. … Donato’s record in nine seasons at his alma mater is 126-137-35. … Hart played at Phillips Exeter Academy with Dartmouth sophomore forward Eric Neiley. He is that school’s season and career scoring leader and was a second-round pick of the NHL’s Tampa Bay Lightning in the 2012 entry draft. … Harvard has played this season without four players who withdrew from school after alleged academic cheating by more than 100 students came to light last August.

Tris Wykes can be reached at twykes@vnews.com or 603-727-3227.