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The Brown Bears outskated, outhustled, and outshot (29-27) the Yale Bulldogs Friday night, but it was not enough to overcome a hat trick from Chris Higgins which led the Elis to their fourth consecutive victory, 4-3, in front of a sellout crowd of 3,486 at Ingalls Rink.
“It was not a very pretty game, but it is a game I am thrilled we won,” said Yale head coach Tim Taylor. “These are the types of games you need to learn how to win — when you do not play well and things are not going your way out there.”
The contest marked the first time Yale (7-3, 7-2 ECAC) has won this year when being outshot by an opponent. But as they have done so many times already during this young season, the Bulldogs responded each time Brown (4-5-1, 4-5-1) threatened to take control of the game.
Taylor pointed to the play of netminder Peter Cohen as key to his squad’s victory.
“I thought he played especially great in the first two periods,” Taylor said. “Brown probably deserved to be ahead after two periods [when Yale led 4-3].”
Yale did not waste any time testing Brown goaltender Yann Danis, who led the conference in save percentage last winter. On the first shift of the game, Higgins took a shot that Danis stopped, and linemate Nick Deschenes went behind the net to pick up the puck and send it back toward Higgins. The puck bounced over a defender’s stick and Higgins wasted no time pulling the trigger, firing a low shot under Danis’ glove just 39 seconds into the game.
The Bears, who equaled their goal total of the last four games with a pair of scores in the first period, got on the board 10 minutes later. Adam Saunders’ shot was blocked by a Bulldog blueliner and fed Keith Kirley with a crossing pass to the right circle to Vince Macri, who sent a low shot that found its way between the legs of Cohen at 10:43.
In what is becoming one of the defining characteristics of the Bulldogs this season, the Brown goal was answered 23 seconds later. Evan Wax took the puck out of the corner and skated into the right circle where he fired a high wrister that snuck past Danis at 11:06.
Brown made it 2-2 late in the first when Les Haggett fed Keith Kirley with a cross-ice pass to the right circle. Kirley took advantage of a sequence where Cohen was trying to get back in position after coming out of the net to make a play, but there was enough open net for Kirley to tie the game.
The first period ended with Brown outshooting Yale 13-9.
Yale outscored Brown 2-1 in the second period, but both teams had many chances to light the lamp. Higgins’ second goal of the game 4:47 into the stanza gave Yale its third lead of the night. Higgins took a feed from Joe Callahan and skated up the left boards before blasting a high slapshot that whizzed past Danis’ glove.
Brown tied the score once again by virtue of a shorthanded tally. After Yale blueliner Jeff Dwyer knocked down a high shot in the Yale end, Cohen dove for the puck and covered it with his glove, but never had control. Brown forward Tye Korbl went in fast and knocked Cohen’s glove off, then easily backhanded the loose puck into the empty net at 12:39.
Less than three minutes later, the home team netted the final puck of the game as Higgins scored his first career hat trick — the third troika for a Bulldog skater this season (after Wax and Christian Jensen). With the Elis on the man advantage, Higgins scooped up his own rebound in the corner and circled along the boards and then towards the Brown net before snapping a low shot in the slot for his ninth goal of the year.
“It was pretty exciting,” said Higgins of his hat trick. “I got a little lucky on that first goal.”
While the third period was scoreless, it was not without its share of anxious moments for both squads. Higgins brought the crowd to its feet in anticipation with Yale on the penalty kill, taking the puck and going from the red line unabated to the Brown net, but Danis stood his ground, catching the low shot between his pads to keep it a one-goal contest.
Yale limited Brown to five shots in the third, but the drama did not succumb until the very end. After a long snap shot from a Brown forward with about five seconds left missed the cage by less than a foot, Cohen quickly covered up the puck and set up a faceoff in the Yale zone with 1.4 seconds on the clock. The Bulldogs won the draw to secure the victory.
“I have not experienced too many one-goal games,” Cohen said. “It was nerve-wracking at times, but then goaltending is often nervewracking. I was pretty confident with the way we clamped down in the third period.”
Brown travels to Princeton on Saturday, while second-place Yale (14 points) hosts conference-leading Harvard (16 points).