Cornell scored just once on five power-play opportunities Friday in its ECAC tournament quarterfinal-round game against Rensselaer. Still, it was a success. The Big Red generated 13 shots, five coming on their one full power play of the second period. That tired out the Engineers.
Cornell took advantage. Matt Moulson’s goal midway though the second snapped a 1-1 tie and gave the second-ranked Big Red a 3-2 victory over the Engineers at Lynah Rink.
“The thing I said after the game was that if you’re going to try and win hockey games, no matter who the opposition is, at this time of the year, discipline has to be a key,” RPI coach Dan Fridgen said. “You’ve got to stay out of the penalty box.”
Top-seeded Cornell (25-4-1) takes a 1-0 lead in the best-of-three series. They can clinch the series and advance to the Pepsi Arena for the final four with a win Saturday night. Game time is 7 p.m.
During the regular season, Cornell led the ECAC with a 24.1 percent power-play efficiency. Ryan Vesce scored on a two-man advantage early in the game to put the Big Red up, 1-0. Vesce had four chances during the five-on-three, which was created by boarding penalties to Ryan Shields and Eric Cavosie 42 seconds apart.
“The penalties hurt us a bit,” said RPI goalie Nathan Marsters, who made 23 saves. “Penalties hurt whenever you take them. We have to make sure we kill them better the next time. Their power play is pretty lethal.”
Ben Barr was able to tie the score late in the first, poking a puck past goalie David LeNeveu. That gave RPI (12-24-4) some confidence heading into the second period.
But when Conrad Barnes went off for boarding at 5:16 of the second period, the Big Red took control with pinpoint passing and tough shots. RPI struggled to get the puck out of the zone. Even though they didn’t score, they had the Engineers breathing heavy.
“I think it was Carson [Butterwick] and Eric that were out there,” Barr said. “They were out there for two minutes because they were really moving that puck around. It was hard for us to get out of the zone there.”
An icing call against RPI set up a faceoff in the Engineers’ left circle.
Vesce on the draw back to Doug Murray at the left point. Murray’s shot deflected off Vesce and into the left-wing corner. Stephen Bâby got the puck and slid it out in front to Moulson, who tapped it past Marsters.
“The second period turned into a five-on-five hockey game,” Cornell coach Mike Schafer said. “There were 12 minutes of power play and penalty kill, and maybe 18 kids played in the first period. When things settled down, we started playing better five-on-five and started to get it going a little bit.”
Greg Hornby gave Cornell a 3-1 lead at 7:07 of the third period. RPI defenseman Brad Farynuk cut it to one at 10:50 with a power-play goal, his first goal since Oct. 25 against Iona.
Nolan Graham had a chance to tie it with 5:31 left. He was in front of the net when he one-timed an Alexander Valentin from the left corner. LeNeveu stopped it.
“[Valentin] came down and took the puck, and he’s got great wheels and good eyes,” Graham said. “He made a great pass in front. I was in tight. I tried to go five-hole as quick as I could. [LeNeveu] came down quick enough.”