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Dartmouth Forces a Deciding Game Tonight

  • Dartmouth  forward Matt Lindblad (9) gestures toward the Thompson Arena student section after scoring his team’s final goal last night during a 4-1 victory over Harvard. Celebrating with Lindblad is linemate Tyler Sikura. (Valley News - Tris Wykes)

    Dartmouth forward Matt Lindblad (9) gestures toward the Thompson Arena student section after scoring his team’s final goal last night during a 4-1 victory over Harvard. Celebrating with Lindblad is linemate Tyler Sikura. (Valley News - Tris Wykes) Purchase photo reprints »

  • Dartmouth College forward Jesse Beamish gets a face full of glove from Harvard's Kyle Criscuolo last night during Game 2 of the teams' ECAC first-round playoff series at Thompson Arena. (Valley News - Tris Wykes)

    Dartmouth College forward Jesse Beamish gets a face full of glove from Harvard's Kyle Criscuolo last night during Game 2 of the teams' ECAC first-round playoff series at Thompson Arena. (Valley News - Tris Wykes) Purchase photo reprints »

  • Dartmouth  forward Matt Lindblad (9) gestures toward the Thompson Arena student section after scoring his team’s final goal last night during a 4-1 victory over Harvard. Celebrating with Lindblad is linemate Tyler Sikura. (Valley News - Tris Wykes)
  • Dartmouth College forward Jesse Beamish gets a face full of glove from Harvard's Kyle Criscuolo last night during Game 2 of the teams' ECAC first-round playoff series at Thompson Arena. (Valley News - Tris Wykes)

Hanover — The Dartmouth College men’s hockey team extended its season last night, pinning a 4-1 defeat on Harvard at Thompson Arena to force today’s deciding contest in the best-of-three, ECAC first-round playoff series. A victory in the 5 p.m. clash would send the Big Green on to a best-of-three quarterfinal series at Union next weekend in Schenectady, N.Y.

Although Tyler Sikura notched what proved to be the winning goal midway through the second period, it was an assist of his that left the announced crowd of 2,753 buzzing. That tally, the last of the game, began when the sophomore center skated out from behind his net and spotted linemate Matt Lindblad cutting across the neutral zone.

Skating several strides up the ice, Sikura threw what coach Bob Gaudet described as a backhand “touchdown pass” high into the air, watching it drop down over the speeding Lindblad’s shoulder and into his outstretched glove. Without breaking stride, the junior skated in on Harvard goaltender Raphael Girard, who stretched to make an initial save at the right post but whose momentum carried him away from the pipe.

As time seemed to slow to a crawl, Lindblad slammed on the brakes a few feet over the goal line, stretched back toward the post and the puck sitting at its base and stuffed the rubber home. In celebration, No. 9 skated toward the near sideboards and the student section, lifting his left knee and pantomiming a ripping gesture across his chest. It’s a move he cadged from NFL quarterback Cam Newton and is known as “The Superman.”

“Their defense had been kind of holding the blue line and Tyler and I had discussed that I could take off and he’d try to hit me,’’ Lindblad said. “I think that play speaks to the chemistry between us.”

Said Gaudet: “That was absolutely spectacular. Just fabulous.”

Dartmouth opened the scoring in the 10th minute. Dustin Walsh fired a shot off Harvard goaltender Raphael Girard that flipped into the air and landed behind the netminder, where Walsh needed two pokes to force it across the goal line.

The Crimson pulled even at 1-1 on a play nine minutes into the second period that began when Dartmouth defenseman Taylor Boldt made an ill-advised clearing attempt up his own slot. Quickly picked off by an opponent, the puck moved to Alex Fallstrom just below the left circle. Even from that sharp angle, the senior was able to fire a wrist shot over Grant’s near shoulder and underneath the crossbar.

Sikura put his team up, 2-1, only four minutes later, taking an Eric Neiley pass out of the left corner and pausing a beat before ripping a wrist shot past Girard from the inner edge of the right circle. Mike Keenan’s slap shot from the left point three minutes into the third period gave the Big Green a 3-1 lead and Lindblad finished the scoring with five minutes remaining in the contest.

“It was a real good effort by the boys,’’ Gaudet said. “I give them credit for sticking with the game plan and not getting rattled. (Harvard is) a skilled team with a lot of weapons and we defended really hard.”

Grant made, 23 saves, including 12 in the third period. The freshman started the contest after junior Cab Morris got the call for the series opener.

Notes: The Big Green is 14-12-5 and Harvard is 10-18-3. … Dartmouth is 4-3 in previous, deciding games of best-of-three playoff series. The Big Green has lost just 1-of-9 such matchups at home in its history. … Should Harvard win today’s game, it will travel to play ECAC regular season champion Quinnipiac in a quarterfinal series. … Lindblad scored two third-period goals as a freshman in 2011 to help defeat visiting Harvard in the deciding game of a best-of-three quarterfinal series. … Brown, coached by former Dartmouth assistant Brendan Whittet, eliminated Clarkson in those teams’ first-round series last night.

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