Dutchmen Shake Off Big Green in Game 1
Dartmouth's Rick Pinkston, left, pokes the puck away from Union defenseman Matt Bodie during the ECAC college hockey playoffs at Messa Rink at Union College in Schenectady, N.Y. Friday, March 14, 2014. Dartmouth left winger Jesse Beamish watches the play from behind. (AP Photo/The Daily Gazette, Peter R. Barber) TROY, SCHENECTADY; SARATOGA SPRINGS; ALBANY AND AMSTERDAM OUT
Schenectady, n.y. — Give a good team a lot of opportunities, and things like what happened in Union’s 3-0 ECAC quarterfinal win over Dartmouth on Friday night are bound to occur.
The 10th-seeded Big Green played a credible game against the top-seeded Dutchmen, but a penalty-prone first period put the visitors in comeback mode from the second minute of the middle stanza. Michael Pontarelli provided the power-play conversion that put Union (25-6-4) — the No. 3 team in this week’s U.S. College Hockey Online poll — in front, and sniper Daniel Carr added two late scores, one on a penalty shot, to gain distance.
With a one-game-to-none lead in the best-of-three series, Union will seek to end Dartmouth’s season for the second straight March tonight at 7 back at the Achilles Center.
“We’ve got to be smart, there’s no question about it,” Dartmouth coach Bob Gaudet said. “It’s a game of momentum, a game of emotion, and we gave away too much on the PK (penalty killing) front.”
Still, aside from allowing the Dutchmen to amass 18 first-period shots and take the lead for good on Pontarelli’s power-play marker at 1:12 of the second, the Big Green (10-19-4) did enough to at least force overtime. It wasn’t for a lack of chances.
The key moment came when the Big Green’s Tim O’Brien drew a pair of Union penalties on one shorthanded maneuver with 7:55 left in regulation. That turned a disadvantage into an advantage, but Dartmouth couldn’t find a way through Dutchman goaltender Colin Stevens (32 saves).
“We were right in there the whole way,” junior forward Eric Neiley said. “It’s a winnable game, a good game between two good teams. It’s going to be a battle the rest of the series.”
Dartmouth goalie Charles Grant turned aside 39 shots.
The Big Green isn’t the penalty-killing machine it was last year, when it finished fifth in the nation with an 88.6 percent success ratio. Dartmouth entered Friday night tied for 47th out of 59 Division I squads at 79.2 percent, facing a Union power play with speed and skill on its side.
Brandon McNally, Nick Lovejoy and Taylor Boldt drew minors in the first 14:05 of the contest, and the Big Green did well to defend. Unfortunately, Union quickly established its physical cycling game with each successive power play, and the Dutchmen finally converted after McNally plowed Union’s Matt Hatch into the center-ice wall for a boarding minor as the stanza closed.
World Junior Championship veteran Shane Gostisbehere forced a stick save from Grant on a blast from the high right circle. The rebound shot to the left circle, where Pontarelli was waiting for the open-net conversion.
“We can’t be wasting our energy for six, eight minutes in the first period killing penalties,” Neiley conceded. “Even though they didn’t score in the first, it gave them momentum. We can’t be doing that.”
The Big Green didn’t for most of the rest of the night. And the outcome remained in doubt because of it.
Dartmouth owned a 15-13 shots edge in the middle period, with Neiley — the ECAC’s player of the week after his performance last weekend at Rensselaer — front and center. The junior set up Andy Simpson for a three-on-two bid and fired two good shots of his own to draw the up-to-then untested Stevens into the contest.
And Stevens answered. The goalie got a glove on Connor Dempsey’s close-in backhand fake and stayed in position to take a Nick Bligh tip try off his mask in the final four minutes to maintain the 1-0 advantage.
O’Brien’s heads-up play at 12:05 of the third was nearly too heads-up. Chasing a puck in the Union zone with Jesse Beamish cooling his skates for goaltender interference, O’Brien drew a holding penalty from Gostisbehere before Mike Vecchione hit him high in the vicinity of his head after the play. Vecchione got two for roughing; Neiley felt it should have been more.
“That’s a hit that they’ve got to get out of the game,” Neiley said. “I don’t know how that’s two minutes and how he stays in the game, but that’s a dirty hit. We rallied around that.”
Neiley had the best chance on the four-on-three. Union overcommitted chasing the puck in the right corner, and Grant Opperman fed a wide-open Neiley at the left dot with a ton of room and time. Stevens robbed him with a brilliant glove save.
Carr drew the deserved penalty shot when Opperman pulled him down from behind on a breakaway at 17:23. Having been stoned by Grant’s glove twice early in the game, Union’s top scorer jiggled his shoulders to open the stick side for the successful snapper.
Gostisbehere fed Carr’s neutral-zone empty-netter with 1:26 left to clinch the victory.
“They’re a good hockey team,” Gaudet said. “We can’t give them as many chances on the power play.”
Ice Chips: Stevens’ clean sheet was his sixth of the year. Union is riding a shutout streak of 189 minutes, 7 seconds. … McNally entered the night as the most-penalized Dartmouth skater with 81 minutes, nearly double the Big Green’s No. 2 miscreant (Neiley, 43). … Carr’s penalty-shot conversion was the Dutchmen’s first since a Glenn Sanders goal against Harvard on Jan. 4, 2003. Union had missed its last six penalty shots prior to Carr’s goal. … Former Dartmouth forward Matt Lindblad, who left the Big Green after his junior season last year to go pro, was called up by the Boston Bruins on Friday and is expected to make his NHL debut this afternoon against Carolina at TD Garden. Lindblad is 8-19—27 in 47 contests for AHL Providence … For the second straight weekend, Dartmouth bore white patches bearing the initials RHG for longtime faculty advisor Bob Gross, who passed away last weekend. … Game one drew a sellout crowd of 2,054. Tonight’s contest should sell out as well; only a handful of game two seats remained prior to the start of game one.
Greg Fennell can be reached at email@example.com or 603-727-3226.