TROY, N.Y. – Eric Neiley saved the best for last Saturday evening. The Dartmouth men’s hockey junior forward scored his second of the night with just 6:14 remaining in regulation to give his team a 3-2 win at Rensselaer’s Houston Field House and force a decisive Game 3 in the ECAC Hockey first-round series.
The 10th-seeded Big Green (9-18-4) trailed the seventh-seeded Engineers, 1-0, in the series after RPI (15-15-6) took the opener, 4-1, Friday night. However, for the second straight year, Dartmouth overcame a Game 1 misstep to force a third contest in the first round.
Neiley’s two-goal effort was his third of the season and served as a crippling blow to the Engineers who had dominated much of the end of the game, looking for their first postseason series sweep at home since 2004.
After Dartmouth controlled much of the play in the first half of the contest, RPI forced a role reversal in the final stages. That swing in momentum caused the ECAC Hockey February Goaltender of the Month Charles Grant to step up his play, making several key stops in the waning minutes.
Included in that late-game surge by Rensselaer was a power play in the final 1:19 of regulation. Grant and the penalty killers in front of him would not be denied as they kept the puck out of harm to force Sunday night’s 7 p.m. contest.
The visitors dominated the opening period of play, outshooting the home club, 19-5. Despite the ice appearing to be tilted in the Green’s favor, only Neiley managed to find the back of the net, doing so with a hard wrist shot from the left circle on the power play at the 7:13 mark. Grant Opperman and Tyler Sikura picked up the helpers on Neiley’s team-leading 14th.
Neiley actually had a goal called off minutes earlier after review deemed he had made too much contact with the RPI netminder.
Sparked by the play of said goaltender Scott Diebold behind them, the Engineers forwards came alive in the second period as Jacob Laliberte and Ryan Haggerty scored goals just 3:12 apart. For Laliberte, it was his second goal of the weekend, while Hagerty’s power-play marker was his third of the series.
Between the two RPI markers in the middle period, junior Jesse Beamish was able to notch his second in as many games at the 9:51 mark. The Mississauga, Ontario, native jumped on a loose puck in the slot that Diebold had misplayed, backhanding a low shot inside the far left post for his fifth of the year.
Neiley’s second of the night was the result of a beautiful toe drag in the high slot before roofing a wrist shot over Diebold’s left shoulder and under the crossbar for his second game winner of the season.
Opperman picked up his second helper of the night, while Josh Hartley had his second in as many nights.
The Big Green were 1-for-3 on the power play, while the PK was 4-for-5 on the night, including the critical kill at regulation expired. They also outshot the home team, 39-22, but that number was not indicative of how well the Engineers played to make it a game.
Dartmouth is now 12-6 all-time in ECAC Hockey Championship Game 2’s.