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PROVIDENCE, R.I. — The Harvard Crimson have had a long list of titles and accomplishments already this season, but it may have reached its most crucial yet: defeating Providence 3-0 to win its first NCAA tournament game since 1994.
Harvard’s winning streak bumped to 15 behind two goals from Tyler Moy and 41 saves by Merrick Madsen.
The top-seeded Crimson got on the board first when Moy continued Harvard’s lethal power play with a wrist shot down low by the faceoff circle.
On the other end of the ice, Madsen continued to excel in net. A week after being named the Most Outstanding Player in the ECAC tournament, the junior goaltender continued to lock it down between the posts.
“They had that big first flurry there at the start of the first period. In a way I felt like that got me into the game a lot easier than if I hadn’t gotten in any shots,” Madsen said. “Obviously, they don’t want to give up chances like that early on but as a team we calibrated and we took it to them the rest of the period.”
The Friars started the game in a frenzy, throwing seven shots on Madsen in the early minutes. Providence appeared to have broken the stalemate when Josh Wilkins pulled the puck in cleanly through the high slot and stunned Madsen with a quick shot behind him. The play was reviewed and ultimately called offside, wiping off Providence’s biggest threat of the night.
“The referees are human. We’re all human,” Providence coach Nate Leaman said. “To win a national championship you have to have to get some bounces along the way. I thought Harvard got a bounce there. I took a look at it between periods, it’s onside.”
Providence entered the game to some skepticism. While the team took a regional at Dunkin’ Donuts Center all the way to a national championship in 2015, the at-large team was only able to force play in bursts. As the period continued, the press from Providence waned and Harvard caught up in shots.
“We wanted to execute but the puck just didn’t go in the net for us,” Leaman said. “I thought we carried some good stretches in the game, and I thought the specialty teams in the second period are a little bit what changed the game.”
Harvard’s success in taking the game in both special teams and goaltending pushed Harvard past its biggest obstacle in a first-round NCAA tournament victory. The accomplishment, like many others this year, did not go without commendation. After all, only four Crimson players were even alive for the last NCAA victory; the oldest, Phil Zielonka, was 16 months old.
“I don’t think they felt the burden for the entire program,” Harvard coach Ted Donato said. “But I think these guys have been in the tournament, the NCAA tournament three years in a row for this senior class. We felt like we had a really good team last year and the year before and we weren’t able to get that first win. They’ll all be difficult, but great credit to our leadership in the locker room.”
While the circumstances may have been similar to the last championship appearance by Leaman’s squad, the Friars will have a chance to continue their success — only six players will graduate from the program this spring.
“That class had a lot of heart,” Leaman said. “There were a lot of doubters from us last year. That’s the first thing I said to this team after: Monker [Josh Monk] and [Kyle] McKenzie and [Conor] MacPhee and [Niko] Rufo, they gave us everything they had. They got a team to this point and I think they played well enough to advance tonight.”