LAKE PLACID, N.Y. — The top-seeded Harvard men’s ice hockey team extended its unbeaten streak to 15 games by defeating fifth-seeded Quinnipiac, 4-1, in the ECAC hockey tournament semifinals Friday night at Herb Brooks Arena. The win propels the Crimson to the championship game for the third consecutive year where they will face third-seeded Cornell, which beat Union, 4-1.
“We’re very excited to move on,’’ Harvard coach Ted Donato said. “We have a lot of respect, Quinnipiac’s been as good a college hockey team as there is in the land, over the last five or six years. We knew it was going to be a tough game and I think it was.”
While the first period was scoreless, Harvard (25-5-2) dominated play after Viktor Dombrovskiy gave life to the Crimson with their first scoring chance of the contest 11 minutes in.
From there, Harvard contained Quinnipiac in its own zone while peppering goaltender Andrew Shortridge with 13 shots to Quinnipiac’s 6.
“I think when we’re playing our best, we’re generating offense, but we’re also quick to defend,” Donato said.
Following a tripping penalty drawn by senior captain Alexander Kerfoot with 4:58 left in the opening period, Harvard generated its best offensive zone chances on the power play, but failed to score.
The middle period was a more typical showing for the Crimson.
An early penalty kill allowed no shots against Harvard goalie Merrick Madsen. Kerfoot drew another penalty leading to Harvard’s first power play of the period, but the Crimson came up empty again.
But the hard-nosed offensive pressure finally paid off.
First, senior forward Sean Malone was the beneficiary of a 3-on-2 break for Harvard as he potted his first goal of the night and 17th of the season at 11:00. Sophomore Michael Floodstrand carried the puck down the right wing, created space and found a trailing Malone, who buried a wrist shot under Shortridge’s blocker for a 1-0 lead.
Then, after junior Jake Horton was called for hooking with 4:47 left in the period, it was the Bobcats’ turn on the power play. Quinnipiac’s Thomas Aldworth snuck home his 10th of the season when he centered the puck across the crease and found the only gap Madsen exposed — in between the post and Madsen’s right pad — to tie the game at one apiece.
On the ensuing shift Quinnipiac senior Connor Clifton sent the Crimson back on the power play.
While the man-advantage was unsuccessful, seconds after Clifton stepped out of the box, Malone scored his second goal of the game at 18:50.
Freshman Nathan Krusko fired a shot that hit a body in front of the net and the fortuitous bounce found Malone alone in front of a gaping cage and he made no mistake for his 18th of season.
“You need your best players to step up and I think we’ve seen that starting last weekend,” senior Luke Esposito said. “Tonight we needed a spark. The greatest thing about our team is it can come from any player and tonight it was Sean [Malone].”
Just more than four minutes into the third period, Esposito dug the puck out of the corner and fed a wide-open Malone who was in tight, but dangled his way around Shortridge for his third goal of the night.
The three-goal performance marks the fourth time a Harvard skater has accomplished that feat this season, as well as the first of Malone’s collegiate career.
“It’s pretty special being a senior. It’s my first hat trick,” Malone said. “It feels good to do it in a big game like this and, more importantly, I’m just happy that we got the win.”
With its season on the line, Quinnipiac (23-15-12) came back after the tally, outshooting Harvard, 15-8, in the third period, but Madsen (25 saves) stood tall. The win is Madsen’s 13th in a row dating to Jan. 27.
“I thought Merrick [Madsen] was great at the end of the game when we needed him,” Donato said. “I’m sure he’d like to have the first one back, but I thought he made a handful of saves coming in that were huge and kept them off the board.”
Esposito added an empty-net goal at 17:55 to solidify the victory and bring Harvard one win closer to a Whitelaw Cup as ECAC champions.
“I think in some ways, our seniors feel like you really can’t win the ECAC unless you play Quinnipiac along the line,” Donato said. “It was a great win for us . . . we’re very happy to have a chance to play for the ECAC championship tomorrow night.”