NEW HAVEN — Patrick Spano was at his best with the game on the line. The Yale senior goaltender stopped 11 of his 24 shots in the third period, including one at the final buzzer to clinch the Bulldogs' wild 5-4 victory over Northeastern on Tuesday night at Ingalls Rink.
A bit of luck earlier in the third certainly helped.
With 5 minutes to play and Yale hanging on to a one-goal lead, Spano found himself in a precarious position after a scrum in front of the net. He'd been pulled to the ice by a Huskies skater, leaving him sprawled on his stomach, spread eagle and facing the wrong direction as a Northeastern skater wound up and fired on net from the point.
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Ryan Hitchcock, a junior forward, stood over Spano as a human shield. But the puck stayed low on the ice. It entered directly into Spano's leg pad, through an opening near his ankle. The shot was blasted so hard it took him a good three minutes to finally locate it as referees and an amused crowd watched.
"(The referees) thought it was in my pants," Spano said. "That's what took so long. They were wrong. I didn't know where it went. I felt something on my shin, and that's where it was, in my pads. It was pretty lucky."
The victory is immense on multiple levels.
Yale (5-6-2) dropped its previous two games to nationally-ranked Union and Boston University before a three-week break for the holidays. An exhibition win over the University of Ottawa last Wednesday helped shake some of the rust, but wasn't much of a challenge.
Two more Hockey East opponents are on the docket in the next six days -- UConn at Hartford's XL Center on Saturday and Providence at Ingalls on Tuesday -- a strong stretch that precedes ECAC Hockey competition for the final two months.
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Northeastern, a talent-laden team with seven NHL draft picks in the lineup, refused to go quietly. Yale took three separate one-goal leads only for the Huskies to answer back and tie the score.
Mike Doherty's goal with 10:32 remaining in the third period broke a 4-4 deadlock and served as the game-winner.
"It's huge," Doherty said. "It's one of my favorite wins in a long time. We've had a tough go as far as stringing wins together. For our freshmen, I think this is huge for their confidence, and for the team as a whole. We've come back from break with a good mindset."
Northeastern entered the game on the heels of consecutive wins over Michigan State and Clarkson by a combined score of 14-4. The Huskies top two lines feature three of the nation's top scorers: Zach Aston-Reese (17 goals, 15 assists, 32 points), Dylan Sikura (11-18-29) and Adam Gaudette (10-16-26).
Yale isn't the defensive force of the past two seasons. Graduation and injuries have thinned the defensive core to the point where junior forward Henry Hart has been reassigned to help fill a need.
Still, the Bulldogs were confident with their strategy.
"Obviously, they have two high-powered offensive lines," Yale coach Keith Allain said. "We don't per se have a checking line. I was comfortable with any one of my top three lines against their top two. That's what we were looking to do from a matchup standpoint. We were able to get that matchup pretty much all night long."
Yale's top lines were productive at both ends. Doherty, skating with Joe Snively and Ryan Hitchcock, had the biggest offensive play of the evening. Freshman Robbie DeMontis set up two goals for his first collegiate points. He fed Andrew Gaus from his knees, a goal that tied the game at 2-2 in the second, then assisted Frankie DiChiara's go-ahead goal three minutes later.
DeMontis, a fourth line center whose played in all 12 games, was bumped up to center Yale's dangerous second line with DiChiara and John Hayden after a 10-minute misconduct sent Evan Smith to the penalty box for the majority of the second period.
"Scoring five goals, they were spread out with five different goal scorers, and our fourth line had a huge goal for us, a momentum-changing goal," Allain said. "If you're going to give up four, you have to score five if you want to go home happy at night."
This article is written by Chip Malafronte from New Haven Register, Conn. and was legally licensed via the Tribune Content Agency through the NewsCred publisher network.