Everyone knows the cliches.
Anything can happen in the playoffs. Throw out the records. It’s the second season. It ain’t over till it’s over.
All those cliches played out in the opening game of the Atlantic Hockey first-round series between 11th-seeded Niagara and No. 6 RIT.
Niagara stunned the home team with three goals in the final 3:55, two of them shorthanded including the game winner with 10.5 seconds left, for a 5-4 victory and a 1-0 series lead.
“We hit the reset button,” Niagara coach Dave Burkholder said.
He was referring to the season, but he could also have been referring to the third period.
RIT took 2-0 and 3-1 leads in the first period, when it had a 16-4 shot advantage of 16-4, and then a 4-2 lead midway through the third.
That fourth goal was the prettiest of the lot. Matt Abt, from his own goal line, fired a pass to the opposite blue line. Erik Brown received the pass, took it to the left circle and wristed the puck into the opposite top corner. Mike Rotolo, the goaltender, got an assist as well.
Brown, the team’s leading scorer, was the fourth different Tiger to score.
Then, the Purple Eagles hit the reset button, thanks, ironically, to two poorly timed penalties against them.
At 14:13, TJ Sarcona was called for tripping. Just 1:52 later, Vinny Muto found the back of the net with a wrist shot to half the lead.
This led to Niagara pulling goalie Jackson Teichroeb. Johnny Curran took a shot from the right circle, which Rotolo got a piece of. However, somehow the trajectory of the deflection sent the puck floating to the opposite post, glance off it, and into the net, without anyone seeing it happen.
Just when it appeared the game was heading for overtime, Muto was called for holding with 21 seconds left. At the very least, RIT could start the extra period a man up.
Instead, somehow RIT allowed a shorthanded Niagara to break in on a three-on-one. Sam Rennaker took the puck down the left side, kept it, and shot it near side.
“Apparently, I had a three-on-one,” Rennaker said. “I had no idea. The goalie cheated, so I put it short side.”
“We didn’t quit,” Burkholder said. “It wasn’t our best effort.”
RIT coach Wayne Wilson was in no mood to talk after losing to a team with just three wins and coming in with a 12-game losing streak.
What happened? “They scored, and we didn’t.”
The shorties? “Yep, they scored shorthanded and they scored even strength.”
Special team breakdown? “Our power play didn’t score and their shorthanded scored.”
Attitude in the locker room? “Awesome. Good. Music is pumping.”
Then, Wilson walked out, back to the locker room with the “music pumping.”
Burkholder said, “It was a horrific season. After our final game, we took Monday off. It just felt like a new season on Tuesday.”
Teichroeb made 35 saves for the win. Rotolo, who was fighting the puck all night, stopped 17.
It’s the playoffs. Cliches abound. The two teams meet again Saturday night as RIT faces the “backs are to the wall” cliche.
Atlantic Hockey roundup
No. 9 Sacred Heart 4, at No. 8 Bentley 1
After Bentley’s Alexey Solovyev scored a first-period goal, Sacred Heart scored four times in the third period to take the 1-0 series lead. Mike Crocock, Vito Bavaro, Justin Danforth and Stephen Hladin (empty net) scored for the Pioneers. Brett Magnus made 29 saves.
At No. 7 Mercyhurst 4, No. 10 American International 3
Favored Mercyhurst opened a 3-0 lead in the first only to see American International tie the score. Derek Barach , who scored the game’s first goal, got the game winner for the Lakers at 16:32 of the second. The teams combined for only 10 shots on goal in the final period. Brandon Wildung stopped 29 to give his team the 1-0 series lead.