Cornell traveled southward to meet Princeton in historic Hobey Baker Rink. Schafer emphasized before the series that the Princeton team that his squad would face would not be the same team that Cornell confronted at Lynah Rink in February when the Big Red managed to produce nearly 40 shots on Princeton's net to no avail. The penumbral implication in all those comments was that Princeton would not face the same Cornell squad that it had in February as well.
Hobey Baker Memorial Rink presented its expected ambiance. The building was tomb-like save for the boisterous chants and exclamations of the Lynah Faithful that found their way to the Jersey-bound Ivy. Princeton's pep band appeared the first night and provided what support it could for its Tigers including chants that are better suited for basketball than hockey (see, the rhythmic refrain of "defense" when Princeton was killing a penalty) and a few that were witty including a response to the Big Red Pep Band's chant that "Princeton's in New Jersey" that involved repeating the taunt with altered emphasis to make it seem complimentary.
Needless to say, the first game was played in front of a crowd whose college hockey fan supporters were partisan toward Cornell. A venue that claimed to have filled to 105% capacity during the regular season was lucky if it reached 50% capacity for either game over the weekend. Even though Cornell nominally started on the road, fan support predictably was skewed in its favor when it took the ice at Hobey Baker Memorial Rink.
The opening period was the roughest of the weekend for Cornell. Princeton was determined to deflate a strident Cornell team that had made a mantra of its desire to make a run in the playoffs. Early in the first game, Princeton made great progress toward that goal.
Princeton was the better team for the first period. The Tigers struck iron once in the first frame of the series. The game began to show signs of tilting in Cornell's favor at the end of the first period. When the teams went to their respective locker rooms after the first frame of the series, it was Schafer who would need to right the ship and Prier who would need to buoy his Tigers to keep up the intensity.
Then, the second period began.
Cornell appeared more determined but Princeton remained as dominant. The first period ended with Condon having a stellar game. He was called on several times to prevent conversion on several threatening offensive chances including a cross-pass on a breakaway with the line of Ferlin, Lowry, and Miller that most goaltenders this season have not been able to stop. Cornell would need to continue to generate without showing mental exhaustion from not converting on superb chances. The Big Red did just that.
Joakim Ryan was the first player to score in the first round for either team. Cornell had begun to take control of the game progressively. It seemed with each passing moment that the flow of the game became more Cornell-controlled. Cornell gained the Tigers's offensive zone and hemmed Princeton in. Cornell cycled around the outsides and wore down Princeton as Cornell hockey is properly executed. The anticipation was in the air of Hobey Baker Memorial Rink. One could tell that Cornell was about to score. Then, a pass from Ferlin connected with Ryan in the slot who had a clear look at Condon and beat the netminder cleanly.
Princeton's deflation was not immediate. The Tigers returned to their poised play. Their efforts might not have redoubled as those of some teams do after allowing a goal, but they did not wither. Princeton was very much set to win the game.
The second period marched on with Cornell controlling the game, but Princeton remained unbroken and Condon equal to all tasks. Princeton became more desperate at about the two-minute mark in the frame. The Prier-coached Tigers seemed determined to get a last-second tally in the second period to take momentum into the locker room with the game knotted at one. The Tigers pressed.
Princeton continued to challenge Iles as the last seconds of the second frame ticked to their conclusion. Iles was equal to challenge of a Princeton barrage. It was Willcox who collected the puck off of a turnover and found a racing and ever-skillful Esposito racing toward the Princeton zone. Esposito received the puck and with no Princeton defenders getting back to help Condon. Cornell's senior forward blasted a shot past Condon and put Cornell up 2-0 with 27 seconds left in the second period.
No one knew which Princeton or Cornell teams would emerge from the locker room the second time. It became quickly apparent. Princeton became more disorganized and far less disciplined. Individual Tigers began to play more selfishly than they had. This trend allowed Cornell to neutralize their offensive opportunities more readily than they had earlier in the game.
Cornell's dominance only increased. A play very similar to the one that had given Cornell a two-goal advantage resulted in the Big Red's third tally. The towering freshman forward Hilbrich broke out against Condon and put the Big Red up 3-0. Princeton was deflated before. It was demoralized now.
Just over 14 minutes remained in the game but Princeton showed little resolve to fight its way back into the game. The Tigers showed efforts toward ending the shutout, but never the resolve to bear down and bring the team back from a 3-0 deficit in the first game of the playoffs.
Cornell's defense and nearly flawless execution of its system prevented Princeton from challenging too dangerously. In the waning minutes of the game, Cornell appeared to play to defend Iles' shutout: an achievement his play had more than deserved in the first game of the playoffs.
Prier who has shown that he is never too shy to pull Condon pulled his netminder with two minutes left in the game. Sophomore forward McCarron, who had played an impeccable game in his generation of offense and wearing down Princeton forwards with his physicality, deserved and tallied an empty-net goal in the closing 1:25 of the game.
It seemed that Princeton would return the next day determined to tie the series and force a game three. The very few Princeton fans that made the trip for the first game and Princeton's pep band would not be there to support the Tigers in the second game. Princeton proved that it was ever a basketball school and its pep band who succeeded in irritating some of the Faithful with basketball chants during a college hockey game the night before abandoned its team because the Tigers had a basketball game to lose (at least unlike the other "basketball school" in the Ivy League Princeton did not cancel the hockey program in 1978).
Princeton would be required to claw itself back from the cusp of elimination into the playoffs in front of a crowd that was nearly wholly partisan in favor of Cornell (if one omits the black and orange worn by Flyers fans who apparently got lost on their way to the Wells Fargo Center who showed a gross misunderstanding of the traditions of college hockey). In its own building. The Tigers were not up to the task.
Princeton struck first. Cornell was extremely disciplined in the first game and had allowed one of the nation's best power-play units the chance to take the ice but once. Cornell had killed that penalty with determined defense and a few key saves from Iles. One of Cornell's best penalty killers was called for interference just past the midpoint of the first period.
Cornell cleared the zone and forced all shots to the outside on several occasions. Princeton was unable to find passing or shooting lanes for most of the power play. As time ticked by, it became inevitable that Cornell would kill off a crucial penalty from a great power-play unit. Until it was not. Princeton's Calof rushed down the left side of the ice and got Iles to commit to block the attempt from a player throughout the series had been selfish. Calof's pass found the Tigers's MacDonald who was on Iles's doorstep and redirected the puck neatly behind Iles.
Cornell would be forced to battle back from a deficit if it wanted to complete a sweep at Hobey Baker Memorial Rink.
The first period expired without any additional scoring. Cornell had generated great offense but Condon was there when called upon to make key saves. Princeton had returned to its somewhat successful tactic from the first night of holding up (sometimes figuratively, other times literally) Cornell forwards when they were gaining a net-front presence.
The second period began with Princeton defending the zone that was overlooked by a peering and taunting Big Red Pep Band, and adjacent to an assemblage of the Lynah Faithful in Sections 103, 104, and 105 of Hobey Baker Memorial Rink. The Faithful would have a front-row seat when the "Evil Empire of the ECAC" struck back. Phenomenal forward Ferlin, who WAFT has noted more often for his assists and plays this season than his goals, tickled the twine with a shot from the left face-off circle. Ferlin equalized the game. Cornell never looked back.
Cornell left the ice for the last intermission of the series having killed off a penalty and equalized the game. Senior captain D'Agostino would not wait long to decide the game. The senior defenseman scored twice in the second frame. His first goal was an even-strength goal that bested Condon. Then, just 4:25 later he struck again with a laser through traffic on a power-play goal that gave Cornell a two-goal lead with just over 14 minutes remaining in the second game of the playoffs. Ever the reliable defenseman, D'Agostino put Cornell ahead and tallied with his second goal what would stand as the game winner.
Cornell would be called upon to kill another Princeton power play. The Big Red showed elevated poise and determination in clearing the zone and allowing Princeton no threatening opportunities in the series's last power play. Princeton's Calof who acted through much of the series like he thought that he could defeat Cornell single-handedly found the back of the net with an extra-attacker goal with 45 second remaining in the Tigers' season.
Lowry skated into the untended Princeton zone and gently deposited an empty-net goal that gave Cornell a 4-2 advantage with 13 seconds remaining in the game. Cornell had defeated Princeton and advanced out of Hobey Baker Memorial Rink.
The weekend overall was a success. Eight Cornell players tallied two or more points over the series. Three of those eight were seniors who have shown that they have heeded Schafer's advice that the team needs to cohere as one to do what it knows it can. Cornell killed off only 75% of power-play opportunities that Princeton enjoyed last weekend but Cornell's discipline in not taking penalties adversely affects this statistic because the Big Red allowed only one power-play goal in the series to one of the elite power-play units in the nation. Cornell scored on 25% of its power-play opportunities.
Three individual efforts for and within the team are of particular note. Senior defenseman D'Agostino mounted his current career point total to 71 points with his game-winning goal against Princeton in game two. D'Agostino in so doing passed another famous offensively minded defenseman, Mike Schafer, who tallied 70 points over his career at Cornell. Senior forward Miller's three-point game in game two against Princeton brought him with three points of reaching the 100-point plateau. The senior forward continues to average more than one point per game. Andy Iles was stellar with his characteristic, but unorthodox, saves that involved pad and toe saves that just closed the door on rushing Princeton forwards or a quick flash of the leather of his glove from one-timers from the slot. He earned a hard-fought and well earned shutout in the series's opener and a save percentage of 0.958 over the series. It could be said easily that his phenomenal play early in the first period of game one fractured the Tigers's resolve and exhausted them mentally, and gave Cornell an edge in the series that the Big Red did not relinquish.
One of the greatest signs throughout the close of this game as it was in the RPI game when Miller was working on a hat trick was the way that the player close to reaching a hat trick put his own self-interest aside and played his role within Cornell's system. D'Agostino was crucial to ensuring that Princeton did not equalize the game as the Tigers pushed ferociously for the equalizer. He dumped the puck twice but never abandoned his defensive post for the chance of gaining an empty-net, hat-trick-completing goal at the cost of possibly allowing a momentary two-man advantage in Cornell's zone. This selflessness and investment in the team played no small part in Cornell's victorious emergence from its first playoff series. It has been one of the hallmarks of this team throughout the season.