Colgate and St. Lawrence exited their respective locker rooms following the second intermission with only one thought on their minds: win this one period, and we’ll be moving on.

With the crowd at their backs, the Raiders stepped up to the challenge and scored three times to earn a 5-2 victory and take the best-of-three series, two games to one, in an epic battle between two worthy foes.

“It was a great series this year,” said St. Lawrence head coach Joe Marsh. “We played five games [during the season], and every single game went down to the wire with three of them going to overtime. Both teams played extremely hard.”

A game between equal opponents is often measured by inches, or, in the case of the game’s opening goal, in fractions of a second. Colgate assistant captain Brad D’Arco unloaded a shorthanded blast that beat Saints goaltender Kevin Ackley just as the buzzer sounded, forcing referee Alex Dell to make a tough judgment call. The Raiders received the goal, much to the delight of the senior scorer.

“I got to about the red line and I heard someone yell ‘two,'” explained D’Arco. “I assumed they meant two seconds, so I just let fly. I was as surprised as the goalie that I beat him, because usually I don’t take slapshots and I certainly don’t aim high. But it went in, and that was really exciting.”

Colgate opened up a 2-0 lead five minutes into the second period when P.J. Yedon scored his third of the weekend with a point-blank one-time blast. For the first time in the entire series a team held a lead greater than one goal.

St. Lawrence quickly made light of that achievement. The visitors dominated the second period, peppering Raider goalie Steve Silverthorn with 20 shots and generating five power plays with their tireless work. Freshmen T.J. Trevelyan and Adam Hogg each capitalized with the extra skater to draw even with Colgate at the end of two tough periods.

“We’ve struggled this season on the power play,” said Marsh, whose Saints finished the game 2-for-10 on the man-advantage. “But tonight we did get a couple of good ones by going hard to the net. Our special teams are nowhere near where we’d like them to be, but that’s just going to take some time and a lot of hard work to build some confidence one brick at a time.”

So the conference rivals found themselves in a familiar position, tied 2-2 with only 20 minutes left to determine who would advance and whose season was at an end.

An unlikely hero determined the outcome.

Colgate freshman Ryan Smyth flew up the boards less than two minutes into the third period and charged towards the net, drawing the attention of Ackley and his defenders. Meanwhile, Raider sophomore Dave Thomas snuck in from the blue line and positioned himself at the opposite post, providing an easy target for the flying Smyth. Thomas tapped the puck past a diving Ackley for his first goal of the season and the eventual game-winning goal.

“Thomas saved the best for last,” said Colgate head coach Don Vaughan. “We’ve been telling him all year, ‘Don’t worry about it, you’re going to get one that really matters.’ And he did tonight. If St. Lawrence had scored that third goal, I think it could have gone the other way. That’s how evenly matched we were. That goal was huge.”

Despite two brilliant periods of hockey in which the Saints seemed to outwork the Raiders at times, St. Lawrence managed only four shots on net in the final frame. With only three minutes remaining in the game, Saint Jim Lorentz coughed the puck up to Adam Mitchell, whose backhand buried any chance of a comeback. Jon Smyth added an empty-net goal, and the final buzzer of a terrific matchup sounded.

Colgate took home its first playoff series victory in three years, as its season continues in the ECAC quarterfinals next weekend in Hanover, N.H., against Dartmouth. The Big Green swept the Raiders out of the playoffs last season, including a thriller that took two overtimes to decide.

“We’re excited,” said D’Arco. “It’s a little chance for revenge for us. They’re a good team too, so we’re going to need a lot of hard work. It should be a series very similar to this one.”

Meanwhile, St. Lawrence finishes a season that ended on an upbeat note despite a slow start. With talented freshmen like T.J. Trevelyan and John Zeiler, along with the return of leading scorer Rich Peverley, continued improvement can be expected.

“I’m very proud of what our kids did this year, particularly in the second half,” praised Marsh. “I know when you look at the statistics you see us 10 games below .500 and you think we had a down year. But I’ll tell you that I was really proud of the effort they put in during the last half, and I saw a lot of progress.”