Merrick Madsen made 35 saves to help the Crimson advance to the ECAC championship game (Elan Kawesch).
LAKE PLACID, N.Y. – It took three reviews, but after a lengthy look at the monitor, the officials indicated for the final time that Harvard's overtime goal at 2:18 stood and the No. 9/9 men's hockey team had punched its ticket to the ECAC Hockey championship game against No. 2/2 Quinnipiac Saturday night at 7:36 p.m.
It was the Crimson's co-captains that lifted it to victory in the extra stanza. Jimmy Vesey wristed a shot from inside the blue line that rose to the level of Kyle Crisculo's helmet, hitting the recently-named ECAC Student-Athlete of the Year in the head and ricocheting into the goal inside the left post. Harvard's bench cleared as it celebrated what it believed to be a victory, but were not able to completely embrace victory until the officials reviewed the goal three times, each time indicating the goal stood. With the goal, Criscuolo moved into a tie with Omaha's Austin Ortega for the nation's lead in game-winning goals with eight this year.
As exciting as the overtime goal proved to be, Harvard's goaltender Merrick Madsen played phenomenal all night on the other end. Madsen finished the night with 35 saves on 36 shots, many of which kept the Crimson in control of the game as St. Lawrence had a myriad of quality scoring chances through the game. Vesey scored Harvard's first goal at the start of the second period, off a Colin Blackwell feed, to go with his assist on the game-winner. He has 16 multi-point games this season with three of those coming in all three matchups against St. Lawrence this year.
Harvard will meet Quinnipiac in the final Saturday after the Bobcats defeated Dartmouth, 3-1, in the first semifinal game. Harvard and Quinnipiac have never met in the ECAC finals, and have only met four times ever in the conference playoffs. The Crimson holds a 3-1 edge in playoffs meetings. The Crimson and Bobcats met last year in the semifinals, with Harvard posting a 5-2 win on its way to the conference championship. This season, Quinnipiac holds the advantage, winning the first meeting in Hamden, 4-1, and the second matchup at Madison Square Garden in January, 5-4, in overtime.
The first period started out with both teams flashing speed up and down the ice. Both goaltenders withstood the initial rushes from the opposing offense and as the period pushed on, gameplay turned more physical with the players working deep in the zones and along the boards. Harvard closed out the period with a terrific scoring chance when Vesey backhanded a pass to Alexander Kerfoot between the two face-off dots, but St. Lawrence netminder Kyle Hayton slid over and stopped the puck with his chest protector. Harvard outshot St. Lawrence, 11-6, in the opening period, but neither team was able to put a tally on the board.
After 20 minutes of no scoring, the Harvard offense made sure to get on the board early in the second. Behind the net, Kerfoot picked the puck off the boards and sent it out front to Colin Blackwell. The senior drifted to Hayton's right, pulling the goaltender and a St. Lawrence defender with him before dropping a touch pass back to Vesey who buried the puck from the top of the crease for his 24th goal of the season 59 seconds into the period.
The breakneck pace from the beginning of the game returned midway through the second frame with the teams flying back-and-forth, putting together one scoring chance after another. St. Lawrence seemed to take control over the final few minutes of the period, but Madsen, who made 10 saves in the second period, continued to hold strong and the Crimson carried a 1-0 lead into the second intermission.
Harvard's bend-but-don't break defensive effort continued to keep St. Lawrence off the board for the majority of the third frame, but at 14:36 the Saints constant pressure netted it the tying goal. Gavin Bayreuther took a slap shot from the blue line that Madsen deflected into the air. A Harvard defenseman swatted at the puck in an attempt to clear it from the front of the goal, but it deflected off his glove in the direction of the Crimson goal and settled across the goal line after clearing Madsen's shoulder. When the horn on regulation sounded, St. Lawrence had a 35-29 shots on goal advantage after outshooting Harvard 18-7 in the third, but the teams headed to the locker rooms for a full intermission knotted at 1-1.
Harvard regrouped during the break and did not let the extra period drag on, scoring just over two minutes into overtime to clinch its spot in the title game. Harvard is returning to defend the Whitelaw Cup, which it won for the ninth time last season. Harvard is playing in consecutive championship games for the first time in a decade. Saturday's final will be broadcast on the American Sports Network (aired on Comcast Sports Net New England in Boston), as well as streamed online on ECACHockey.com and TSN GO at 7:36 p.m. Saturday.