The country’s stingiest defense confirmed its status by blanking the ECAC’s top-scoring team. David LeNeveu broke the school record for shutouts in a season with his seventh as Cornell took a 3-0 decision before a packed house at Ingalls Rink and a live national TV audience.
LeNeveu needed 31 saves, including 13 in the second period, to pass legendary Big Red goalie Ken Dryden on the school single-season shutout list.
“You can’t really think about the record until the last two minutes, because if you think about it too early only bad things will happen,” LeNeveu said. “It is an unbelievable feeling, but above all it is a tribute to my teammates. Really much of the credit for the record goes to them.”
Cornell (24-4-1, 19-2-1 ECAC) gives up just over 20 shots on net per game, but the Bulldogs — who were 0-7 against nationally-ranked teams this year — were trying to avoid a three-game losing streak to finish the regular season and managed 11 more than that. Even six power-play attempts could not help to solve the sophomore from Fernie, B.C.
“They threw a lot of pucks to the net,” said Cornell head coach Mike Schafer. “But our guys did a good job out in front and didn’t let anything get too close. We did a very good job of being patient.”
Both Cornell and Yale will enjoy first-round byes in the playoffs. The Big Red clinched the ECAC regular-season title Friday night at Princeton while Yale finished tied for third place with Dartmouth. The Big Green hold the tiebreaker by virtue of their season sweep of Yale, so the Bulldogs are the No. 4 seed.
Despite ending the season with three consecutive losses, Yale head coach Tim Taylor liked much of what he saw against Cornell.
“I’ve never been more proud of an effort,” Taylor said. “We had our share of chances, but they are the best defensive team in the country. I told our guys that I hoped they would leave the rink tonight feeling very good about themselves. I think we all found out that we are a better hockey team now than we were [before the game]. Our team defense was very strong throughout the game.”
The first period, a tight-checking, high-tempo 20 minutes, resembled a deciding game of a playoff series more than a regular-season contest. Yale (17-12, 13-9) outshot Cornell 11-8 but both teams had numerous quality scoring chances. LeNeveu, the nation’s top goalie in every statistical category, was challenged at least five times among his 11 saves in the period. His counterpart, Josh Gartner, was on the ice often, diving on pucks.
The bad news in the first stanza for the Elis came from the locker room where it was determined that Nick Deschenes, a senior wing on the Chris Higgins and Vin Hellemeyer line, had a game-ending hand injury.
It took 35 minutes and 42 seconds, 35 shots on goal and four power-play attempts before someone finally banged one home. After Big Red center Chris Abbott won a faceoff in the Yale end, junior defenseman Ben Wallace took a few strides and then blasted a low slapshot from the top of the right circle that went through the five-hole to give Cornell a 1-0 lead. It was his third goal of the year.
Gartner managed to keep the No. 2 team in the nation out of the net on two power plays that period but gave up a few too many inches.
The Big Red lit the lamp for a second time when Wallace’s blue-line partner, Charlie Cook, fired a low slapshot that went through traffic and found the back of the net at 15:36 of the third.
Gartner emptied the net with 1:24 left and the Bulldogs, who finished the season fourth in the ECAC, got a few shots off before Sam Paolini backhanded a shot from outside the blue line that found the net at 19:25.
This was the second time Yale had been blanked at home this year; New Hampshire won a 5-0 game back in early January.