Strong defense and an opportunistic offense allowed Saratoga Springs to continue its string of postseason hockey success Thursday night.
The top-seeded Blue Streaks killed off a succession of penalties early in the third period, then scored two goals 35 seconds apart to beat Shenendehowa, 4-0, at Union College’s Messa Rink for their fourth consecutive Section II championship.
Matt Flynn scored a pair of goals and assisted on another, Drew Patterson and Tyler Bullard both had a goal and an assist and Dakota Smith made 20 saves to post his third shutout in as many postseason games for the 19-3-1 Blue Streaks, who also shut out their chief rival for the third time this season.
“Shen put up a good battle. It was a tremendous win for the program, and a tremendous win for a bunch of good kids,” said Saratoga coach Dave Torres, whose team plays downstate at the Section I champion on March 2 in a regional game
And it took a tremendous defensive effort for the stingy Steaks to make it three straight shutouts in this playoff run.
Up two goals and down a man to open the third period, the Blue Streaks gave the Plainsmen every opportunity to get back in the game by taking three more penalties in the first 4:28 of the final period.
Bullard, the team’s leading scorer, epitomized the penalty-kill effort by either blocking shots or clearing the puck four different times during the short-handed stretch.
“You can’t credit our penalty kill enough,” said Bullard, who earned his third Section II title. “We all go out there and sacrifice the body. We know what it takes. We’ve been here before. We know we’ve got to block shots to win games, so we get in front of shots, whatever it takes to win the game.”
“That means they want to win. They’ll sacrifice the body to win the game,” said Torres. “That’s what we do.
“It was a little uncharacterstic of us to take penalties. We had a little lapse there. They have a very good power play, but our guys just dug deep.”
“When you’ve got your most valuable players going as hard as they can blocking shots for you, you know they’re in it to win,” said Smith, appreciating the effort his teammates put into the penalty kills.
“We knew if they scored, they were back in the game, so we had to tighten up,” said Flynn, who teamed with Brendon Wormley on the blue line for a large portion of the kills. “We worked real hard on those penalty kills.”
Shenendehowa coach Juan de la Rocha was left wondering what it would take to score a goal against the Blue Streaks this year. Saratoga oustcored his team, 13-0, in their three meetings.
“It was a frustrating night for us,” he said. “To sum it all up, on one of those five-on-threes or five-on-fours, we fed the point, our ‘D’ went to take a shot on goal and they weren’t in position to block it. But a kid just reaches out with his stick and knocks it down out of mid-air. That summed up our luck.
“It was tough to get things going. We needed some kind of a break to give us some momentum. We never really got that.”
Patterson opened the scoring with 20 seconds to play in the first period when he cleverly redirected a shot from Drew Hasbrouck through his skates and between the pads of Shenendehowa goalie Brian Walter.
Flynn finished a three-way play with Wormley and Bullard on the power-play midway through the second.
After they finished helping to kill penalties, Flynn and Bullard had the third-period goals to put the game on ice.
“At some point, you have to take some offensive chances,” de la Rocha said. “When you do that, you’re probably going to give up a lot of odd-man rushes, and that’s what happened late in the third period.
“We had one or two good looks when it was still 2-0, then they got one of those two on one or three on one situations, and they buried it.”
Torres credited his team’s experience as a big part of the win.
“We’ve got 17 guys on this team that have been there before,” he said. “The experience is the key when you’re moving on in the playoffs.”
Two of the standouts, though, were seniors playing in their first, and only, sectional final.
“This feels great. The energy in this building felt great,” said Smith, who transferred back into the Saratoga Springs school system after playing for CBA.
Flynn, along with his twin brother, Ryan, skated with the Blue Streaks this year after previously playing junior hockey.
“It means the world to the team, the guys and the school,” said Flynn, a quick winger who has five goals and four assists in the postseason.
Shenendehowa 0 0 0 — 0
Saratoga Springs 1 1 2 — 4
First period — 1, Saratoga, Drew
Patetrson (Drew Hasbrouck, Matt Flynn), 14:40.
Second period — 2, Saratoga, M.Flynn (Tyler Bullard, Brendon Wormley), 8:14 (pp).
Third period — 3, Saratoga, M. Flynn (R.Flynn, Patterson), 6:43. 4, Saratoga, Bullard (Devin Smith, Nick Winters), 7:18
Goaltenders — Shenendehowa, Brian Walter, 25 saves. Saratoga Springs, Dakota Smith, 20 saves.