MOON TOWNSHIP, Pa. — The big boys showed up in grand fashion for Bentley on Friday night as evidenced by the play of the Falcons’ top line that contributed to all four goals in a 4-3 victory in Game 1 of their playoff series versus home standing Robert Morris.
And they showed up at the most opportune times, responding to each Colonial goal with one of their own. The last Falcon response came off the stick of Max French, who sent a long slapper from just inside the blue line that beat RMU goaltender Terry Shafer in the waning minutes of the third period.
It was a game that saw Falcons’ netminder Gabe Antoni stop 45 of 48 Colonial shots, and also a night that the Falcons executed a near-perfect game plan.
“I think we’ve been very prepared coming into the last six or seven games we played,” Bentley coach Ryan Soderquist said. “We came back from Christmas break and we didn’t have a good month, but we found a way to regroup and last weekend against Sacred Heart, we really found our game again. We came in here really confident that we were playing a different style of hockey and we were ready to take on a very tough opponent this weekend. Our first line had a very good night and our goaltender played well, but with that being said, our defensive pairs have really been playing well, and our depth guys had a great game tonight, too. Robert Morris has some skilled guys and we’re going to try to take away time and space and put bodies on them as soon as possible and that will certainly be our game plan again tomorrow night.”
The first few minutes of the game gave an early indication that the Colonials showed little to no rust coming off their bye week as they looked to grab the early lead with a slew of early scoring chances – all of which Antoni turned aside.
One which he was unable to keep out of the net was Zac Lynch’s short-handed goal at 6:16 of the first period that put the Colonials in the early lead. Lynch found himself the recipient of a turnover near the Falcon blue line and made a dazzling move to beat Antoni for the unassisted tally, his eighth shorthanded goal of the season. It was a special moment for the senior forward who notched his 151st career point at Robert Morris, making him the school’s all time scoring leader.
The Falcons then responded quickly when Matt Blomquist tied the game less than two minutes later with a blast from center that beat Shafer through traffic. It was a goal that appeared to turn the momentum in the Falcons favor as they got to their game, seeking offense when the opportunity presented itself, but also paying close attention to thwarting any Colonial speed through the neutral zone.
Bentley then found the back of the net once more before the period’s end as French deposited his first goal of the night on the power play at the 17:50 mark with a wrist shot that put the Falcons in front headed into the dressing room.
As the second frame opened, the Falcons carried over the momentum they’d generated from the first 20 minutes, earning two power plays in the early going, but they were not able to capitalize thanks to some strong Colonial penalty killing and timely saves from Shafer to keep gap at one.
Then the momentum swung to the Colonials, who desperately sought the next goal and put together solid shifts from all lines as the second period rolled along.
Robert Morris’ Timmy Moore pulled his team to a tie at 11:23, finishing a strong shift that saw Brady Ferguson nearly tie the game himself with a wraparound that Antoni kept out of the net, but Moore refused to give up on the play as he buried a shot past Antoni seconds later.
Andrew Gladiuk provided the next response with a late-period goal that saw him beat Shafer on the short side from close range at 16:18.
As the third period got underway, the next goal became crucial, and the Falcons did everything they could to keep the Colonials from getting it as Robert Morris could not generate much in the way of sustained pressure or scoring chances. Seemingly every Colonial attack was met with four Falcon bodies at the blue line.
As their desperation grew, the Colonials got rewarded following a furious goal mouth scramble. The puck finally reemerged on the stick of RMU’s Matt Cope in the high slot and he sent a shot past Antoni to tie the game at 14:11 of the third.
But the Colonials barely had time to celebrate as French’s second goal came just 38 ticks later.
Robert Morris mounted one more significant charge with a power play and an extra attacker via an empty net in the waning seconds, but Antoni stood tall and made saves on great looks from Lynch and Greg Gibson to close the door on the Colonials.
“We turned some pucks over in the prime areas tonight and we didn’t limit their top line,” said Robert Morris coach Derek Schooley. “The last time I checked, you’ve got to win two games and it’s disappointing that we didn’t get the job done. Every game for us from here on out is an elimination game. They had a game plan, they executed their game plan, they competed hard and they were opportunistic and they got the saves from Antoni. We’ve just got to be better in our own end with the puck and limit their top line. And we have to make sure that we stick together as a group.
“We can’t start getting frustrated and pointing fingers. We have to stay the course and stay together.”