Top-seeded Cornell’s path to an ECAC championship is proving to be anything but easy.
The Red (21-4-6,17-3-2 ECAC), which secured the ECAC regular season title and home ice advantage for the opening round of the ECAC tournament, opened the tournament against RPI (14-17-5,10-11-1 ECAC), a team it had defeated twice in regular season play. After a tough win Friday night, it looked like Cornell might be moving on to the semifinals Saturday.
But Engineer goaltender Lovisa Selander had other plans, making 49 saves in a 2-0 win to force a game three.
“I told the team they played well,” said head coach Doug Derraugh ’91. “We just gotta keep doing what we’re doing and find a way to finish our chances.”
On Friday, Cornell grinded out a hard-fought win in which it outshot RPI, 65-7, but needed nearly 16 minutes of overtime to net the game winner. RPI’s Selander, the NCAA all-time leader in saves, made an astounding 63 saves in the extended contest.
Selander and the Engineers carried their defensive prowess into the second game of the series Saturday night. Every time a Cornell shooter had some open net to shoot at, Selander took it away.
“With a lot of the shots, [Selander] is able to see them. When she sees them, she makes the save,” Derraugh said. “We have to do a better job of taking away her eyes and not allowing her to see the puck as well as she does now.”
RPI struck first with 14:27 left in the first period. Engineer Blake Orosz dangled and scored on a breakaway after a stretch pass up the middle of the ice caught the Red in flux. Orosz also scored first for RPI on Friday night when she snuck the puck past senior goaltender Marléne Boissonnault on a power play.
On offense, the Red controlled possession and fed Selander a steady diet of deflections and screened shots, setting the pace with 14 shots on net out of 33 attempted in the first period, but to no avail. Though the puck seldom left their zone, the Engineers left the ice after the first period with the lead.
“It’s always tough. We had a lot of opportunities and didn’t cash in, but that’s the game of hockey,” Derraugh said. “You need to be able to execute and score goals — that’s the bottom line.”
Tempers flared in the second period as Selander and the Engineers defense continued to frustrate the Red. Scrums in front of the net bled over past the whistle more than once. Cornell’s skaters did everything they could to earn a greasy goal on Selander, and the Engineers looked out for their goaltender by upping their physical play — RPI took two second-period penalties for roughing and one for hitting after the whistle.
The Red’s special teams opportunities translated to nil as the score stayed put at 1-0 in the second stanza. The Engineers held off two Cornell power plays, the first of which saw 2 shots get through out of 11 attempted. The second power play was similarly fruitless.
“We’re moving it around a little too much, maybe overthinking it, which tends to happen when you’re trying to get it past a goaltender and you start to get too fine,” Derraugh said. “We just gotta look for our shot more.”
The majority of play in the second was concentrated in the Engineers’ defensive zone, and the Red held its opponent to a measly two shots on goal for the period while Cornell peppered Selander with another 20 shots on a whopping 48 attempts. But the area in front of the net was flooded with black jerseys and the Red had trouble getting the puck through.
“They do a nice job defensively of protecting the house, getting back through the middle, and defending on second and third shot opportunities,” Derraugh said. “We didn’t get enough second and third rebound chances and tips and that kind of thing. We’ve gotta work a little harder to get those kinds of looks.”
The Red offensive onslaught kept on in the third, bringing Cornell’s shot total to 49 for the game. Cornell made a compelling last-ditch effort, but RPI’s Orosz scored an empty netter for her second tally of the night with 1:30 left to ice the game.
“It’s about learning from our mistakes and bouncing back and really going at it tomorrow,” Boissonnault said.
The Red will hit the ice against RPI at 3 p.m. tomorrow for the series-deciding game. The winner will advance to the ECAC semifinals.