Nick Deschenes and Joe Zappala scored goals 37 seconds apart late in the third period to erase Clarkson’s 4-3 lead and give the Bulldogs a 5-4 victory in front of an energized sellout crowd of 3,486 at Ingalls Rink.
After losing their only lead of the night after erasing three one-goal Yale advantages, the Golden Knights peppered Eli netminder Josh Gartner with several flurries of shots over the final 4:24, but the freshman goalie came up with all the stops. Gartner finished with 35 saves on the night and Nick Deschenes and Vin Hellemeyer each had a goal and two assists to give the Bulldogs their sixth win in the last seven games.
“That was nerve-wracking,” said Yale head coach Tim Taylor. “I thought we played great for the first 10 minutes of the game, but then we let them take over, and they had their way with us for a while. We were fortunate to be tied at 3-3 at second intermission, but aside from the one goal Clarkson scored, I thought we played a very solid third period.
Yale (14-9, 10-6) took advantage of its only power play of the night to jump out to an early lead in a game which saw a total of three penalties. Chris Higgins’ recorded his fourth goal of the weekend with a slapshot from the top of the right circle at 6:44, beating Golden Knight goaltender Mike Walsh (29 saves) low on the stick side. The goal, set up by a Ryan Steeves feed from the opposite corner, was Yale’s fourth power play goal in six opportunities on the weekend. Higgins’ tally stood through the remainder of the lively first period, thanks to several big saves from Gartner.
Clarkson (11-15-1, 6-6-1) defender Dale Good tied the score 2:09 into the second with a low shot, and the Golden Knights controlled play for much of the period, on their way to out-shooting the Bulldogs 16-9 in the frame. The game score was not as tilted, thanks to the Bulldogs capitalizing on some great individual efforts. Joe Callahan fired a low shot from against the boards that was saved by Walsh, but the rebound came out to Hellemeyer, who was well positioned on the left side of the cage. Hellemeyer sent it over Walsh who had gone low to stop Callahan’s shot to give Yale the 2-1 lead at 11:01.
The Golden Knights came right back, with O’Flaherty netting a feed from Randy Jones at the 12:38 mark. O’Flaherty was all alone to the side of the net and there was little Gartner could do to prevent Clarkson from tying the score at 2-2.
The seesaw game tilted back to the Bulldogs at the 17:00 mark when the rebound from a Hellemeyer shot found the stick of Callahan in the slot. Callahan sailed the puck over Walsh’s left shoulder to give the home squad the 3-2 lead.
With 20 seconds left in the period, the Golden Knights tied the score for a third time. Chris Bahen crossed the Yale blueline and sent a crisp cross-ice pass to Rob McFeeters who one-timed it over Gartner to make it 3-3.
“I told the guys in the locker that we needed to play a lot harder and pay more attention to detail in the third if we wanted to win,” Taylor said.
Clarkson, though, took its first lead of the game 2:27 into the period. Senior winger Adam Campana’s shot from the top of the left circle seemed to be headed wide of the net, but it deflected off a player and went past a surprised Gartner. Campana was credited with his third score of the year, to put the Knights up 4-3.
That score stood for much of the period, and Clarkson continued to effectively limit Yale’s scoring looks. But at 14:59, Deschenes backhanded a shot from 15 feet out that found its way across the goal line to tie the score at 4-4.
“It was pure adrenaline at that point,” Deschenes said. “At that point all tiredness goes away, and you just have to buckle down that much more.”
Thirty seven seconds later, Zappala lit the lamp for the game winner, his second tally in as many nights. Zappala picked up the puck on a pass from fellow freshman Zachary Mayer and took a shot that caromed off a defender and then his own skate. Zappala reloaded and fired the puck past Walsh at 15:36 to put Yale up 5-4.
“I really don’t know how I got the puck that wide open,” Zappala said. “It hit my foot and it bounced back, and I think I caught the goalie off guard.”
The game was far from decided, though, especially after Yale’s Mike Klema was whistled for a 5-minute major for hitting from behind with 2:19 left. Walsh was able to leave the net for a few seconds to around the one-minute mark, but had to get back in for a face-off. He vacated the cage for good with 41 seconds left, giving the Knights two extra skaters. Gartner had to make several impressive saves from nearly all angles to preserve the victory. The freshman netminder’s final save came with one second left, as he deflected Matt Syroczynski’s backhanded above the crossbar.
“That’s about as good as it gets, right there,” Gartner said. “I was just glad to come up with a few big saves for the guys. They scored five goals for us tonight, and I was thinking ‘Just win the game – I better not let another one get in.'”