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Harvard was leading Yale, 3-2, on Friday night when referee Brian Aaron raised his hand to call Bulldog defenseman Stacey Bauman for cross-checking Harvard captain Dominic Moore behind the Yale net.
Aaron’s whistle blew at 7:10 of the third period. Seventeen seconds later, the red light was on behind Yale goalie Peter Cohen.
And the game was over.
“That pretty much cooked our goose,” said Yale coach Tim Taylor, after watching Harvard score three late goals to win, 6-2, before a sellout of 2,776 at Bright Hockey Center. “That was huge. We had just gotten a psychological lift after killing off a penalty right before that.
“But that fourth goal killed us.”
The goal was especially crucial for Harvard because the Bulldogs had scored twice in the second period after Harvard stormed out of the gates to a 3-0 lead in the first. The opening minutes of the third period were even, and the game was either team’s to win at that point. But with one thrust of his stick, Bauman gave the Crimson the break it needed to regain control.
On the ensuing power play, Harvard freshman defenseman Tom Walsh — who is developing into one of the league’s premier playmakers from the blue line — zipped a perfect pass from the point to classmate Charlie Johnson on the doorstep. Johnson’s bid clanged off the post, but the rebound came in front to Tom Cavanagh, who chopped at it, knocking it past Cohen.
“That was a real key goal for us,” said Harvard coach Mark Mazzoleni, who had expended the energy of his first power-play unit during a slashing call on Yale’s Jeff Hristovski, which expired just six seconds before the penalty to Bauman. “We had to go to our second power play — that’s three freshmen and two sophomores.”
And they did just fine.
“Charlie hit the post, and I was just standing in front. The puck hit my stick and went in,” said Cavanagh, matter-of-factly, after extending his team-leading scoring streak to 10 games. “I guess that’s why I’m in front — for those rebound goals. Knock in the garbage.”
Harvard’s next goal was much prettier. It came just 40 seconds later, when defenseman Noah Welch jumped into the play, swept through the slot untouched, and one-timed a tape-to-tape pass from Rob Fried into the back of the net for a 5-2 Harvard lead.
Tim Pettit’s second goal of the day — upping his ECAC-leading point total to 28 — wrapped up the scoring with 3:56 to play.
With the win, Harvard completed its first regular-season sweep of Yale since the 1999-2000 season and improved its all-time record against the Bulldogs at Bright to a sparkling 22-1-3.
More importantly, it gave the Crimson a little more breathing room atop the ECAC standings. Harvard is now 11-2-0 in the ECAC (12-5-1 overall), with just nine conference games left. The pack of teams behind it — Yale included — has a host of games in hand and will have the opportunity to catch up while Harvard is occupied by its upcoming exam break and February’s Beanpot tournament.
“There was a lot on the line tonight,” said Mazzoleni, whose team entered the weekend at No. 18 in the Pairwise Rankings and in need of a victory against Yale to improve its standing. “Both teams have high expectations, and both teams think that they can win the ECAC. So our kids knew they had to come out hard.”
And they did — especially Moore, who put his team up 1-0 about nine minutes in on an outstanding individual effort.
Moore gained possession in the Crimson zone and quite simply outskated the entirety of Yale’s defense. He stormed down the right wing until he got as deep as the faceoff dot, then accelerated past Bauman as he cut in front. After waiting for Cohen to go down, Moore switched the puck to his forehand and roofed his 11th of the season.
Harvard took a 2-0 lead less than a minute later, when Pettit put away a one-timer off an offensive draw won by Cavanagh against Ryan Steeves, then went up by three with 54 seconds left in the period when Tyler Kolarik put back a rebound of Brett Nowak’s point-blank wrister.
And late goals never make coaches happy.
“We were horrible in the first period,” Taylor said.
But things changed when Yale found its skating legs in the second. The Bulldogs broke through about halfway through the period when a Denis Nam-to-Zachary Mayer-to-Hristovski tic-tac-toe job from the left corner to the goal-mouth resulted in Hristovski roofing his third of the season over a helpless Dov Grumet-Morris.
The Elis cut Harvard’s lead to one later in the period when Chris Higgins — just back from the World Junior Championships — took a feed from Steeves and skipped a shot through a screen and past Grumet-Morris.
Steeves nearly tied the game with 2:20 to go in the period, but his wrister from the top of the left-wing circle clanged off the post behind Grumet-Morris and bounced harmlessly into the corner.
“It might’ve changed things if Steeves would have scored there and tied it up after two,” Taylor said.
But even without tying the game, Yale had shifted the momentum. The Bulldogs finished the second period with 13 shots on goal, almost all of which came in the final minutes. Grumet-Morris had to swat away a barrage of shots that came on net and back out to the point so quickly you could’ve sworn you were watching a five-man racquetball match.
“We just started to compete better,” Taylor said of the second period. “We knew we had to go in there and work hard behind the net, and that’s something this team doesn’t always do naturally. We’d rather carry it in.
“And to be down 3-2 going into the third period in this building isn’t a bad situation.”
The Elis were within striking distance, but the type of strong third-period play from Harvard that has given it a perfect 12-0-0 record this season when leading after two won out in the end.
Grumet-Morris finished with 26 saves for Harvard, while Cohen stopped 32 of the Crimson’s 38 shots in his first start since a 7-3 loss to Minnesota Dec. 27.
Harvard hosts Princeton Saturday night, while Yale travels to Brown.
Before the game, the crowd observed a moment of silence in honor of legendary Boston Globe sports columnist Will McDonough, who died late Thursday night at the age of 67.