Brown’s patience paid off Friday night at Houston Field House.
The Bears sat back in their zone and made No. 2 Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute settle for outside shots, giving goalie Anthony Borelli a long look at most of the Engineers’ offerings. Then No. 7 Brown jumped up for two goals in the final two minutes to win the first game of this best-of-three ECAC Hockey quarterfinal series, 3-1.
“We talked about that, their D sag back,” RPI captain CJ Lee said. “We can really drive in wide and make them defend down low. [But] we tried pulling up too much and being a little cute. They forced us into some turnovers, and we really didn’t make them defend down low.”
The Engineers (17-13-5) let the Bears (14-12-6) settle in, and then Matt Lorito gave Brown a 1-0 lead at 8:09 in the first period.
Defenseman Brandon Pfeil leapt at the blue line to glove down a high attempted clear, keeping alive what was already a long trip into the RPI zone. He sent it forward, and Nick Lappin deflected it wide to the left, where Lorito was on hand to tuck it away at the left post.
“The last time we were here, they scored on their first shift and we were on our heels, and we never really recovered from that,” Brown coach Brendan Whittet said. “Tonight, I thought one of the keys was to have a good first 10 minutes, a good first period, and that we did. We got a lead, and that’s a big thing. We’re good playing in front.”
A chance to tie the game came in the second period when Lee and Jacob Laliberte connected for a give-and-go, but both were give-only and neither looked to the net for a shot. One too many passes later, the scoring chance had passed them by.
“I thought we tried to be a little cute,” RPI coach Seth Appert said, “and I thought we tried to make a lot of perfect plays instead of playing the way you need to score in the playoffs, which is really just getting pucks into hard areas, winning rebound battles and scoring like we did on the power play.”
Last time the teams met, RPI scored three power-play goals en route to a 5-1 blowout on Feb. 15. This time, the Bears weren’t as free with their penalties, but the Engineers were able to take advantage on one of their two power plays to draw even at 19:03 in the second period.
Ryan Haggerty shot from the right side on a rush, and Borelli was unable to keep the rebound safe. Laliberte smacked it back past him from the left side of the crease.
The Engineers were pressing for a goal in the closing minutes of the third, when a no-call on a trip in the corner behind the Brown net got the crowd on its feet. They had yet to sit back down before the puck was going the other way, and Michael Juola sent his shot from the inside arc of the right circle past RPI netminder Jason Kasdorf, over the goalie’s right shoulder at 18:16. Mark Naclerio added an empty-netter at 19:50.
Kasdorf and Borelli both finished with 26 saves. The teams will meet again tonight at 7 at Houston Field House, for the second game of the series. A Brown win will send the Bears to Atlantic City for the semifinals next weekend. RPI needs to win to force a third game on Sunday.
“We’re still confident,” Lee said. “We’ve just got to come ready to play our game tomorrow and be desperate. They’re trying to end our season tomorrow. I know our back is up against the wall, but this team has fought through adversity the whole year, so we’re ready to go.”
Brown 1 0 2 — 3
RPI 0 1 0 — 1
First Period — 1, Brown, Lorito 18 (Lappin, Pfeil), 8:09. Penalties — Hourihan, Brn (tripping), 19:28.
Second Period — 2, RPI, Laliberte 10 (Haggerty), 19:03 (pp). Penalties — Drolet, Brn (hooking), 17:32.
Third Period — 3, Brown, Juola 4 (Zaires, Goldberg), 18:16. 4, Brown, Naclerio 6 (Hathaway, Ryan), 19:50 (en). Penalties — Zalewski, RPI (slashing), :36.
Shots on goal — Brown 10-14-5 — 29. RPI 8-10-9 — 27.
Power-play opportunities — Brown 0 of 1; RPI 1 of 2.
Goalies — Brown, Borelli 12-7-5 (27 shots-26 saves). RPI, Kasdorf 13-4-2 (28-26).
A — 2,479. T — 2:00.
Referees — Chris Ciamaga, Robert St. Lawrence. Linesmen — Michael Emanatian, Dan Taggert.