By CAP CAREY
POTSDAM Three seniors playing in their final home game at Cheel Arena scored goals to give the Clarkson University mens hockey team a 3-2 win over Princeton in the deciding game of an ECAC Hockey first-round series on Sunday night.
Clarkson (20-15-4 overall) won its first playoff series since 2007 and will travel to Ithaca to play a best-of-three quarterfinal series at Cornell University beginning Friday night.
The Golden Knights, who had lost three playoff series at home in the past six years, got off to a tough start in this series, falling 3-2 in overtime to the Tigers (6-26-0) on Friday.
Clarkson dominated game two, winning 4-0, and won a tighter third game Sunday.
Jarrett Burton, Allan McPherson and Will Frederick scored for Clarkson.
I thought it was a really hard-fought series, Clarkson coach Casey Jones said. I thought Princeton played extremely hard. It was a grind-all three nights getting to space and areas. I thought it was good hockey.
Burton started the scoring for Clarkson with a power-play goal 2 minutes, 13 seconds in on a shot that even he is not sure how the puck got past Princeton goalie Colton Phinney. It appeared to have gone off of a Princeton player.
Joe Zarbo made a nice roll coming across there and kind of fired it, Burton said. It kind of bounced off my chest, and I was able to get it down to my stick. From there, I dont really know what happened. I gave it a good whack and there was a little bit of a delay. Im not sure if it went off their goalie or one of their players. It was just kind of a lucky one, but well take it in the playoffs.
The Tigers, who never recovered from giving up the first goal of the game Saturday night, answered this time, tying the game 1-1 on a goal from Jonathan Liau at 6:52 of the first period.
Clarkson regained the lead when McPherson scored at 12:29 of the opening period.
Its tough to end someones season, McPherson said. The season was on the line. We knew they werent going to give up or back down. We were up one, and they came back a couple times but we kept fighting.
Princeton tied the game again at 10:00 of the second period with a power-play goal by Kyle Rankin.
Clarksons game-winner came during a power play at 12:49 of the second period when Frederick tapped a pass from Jeff DiNallo past Phinney.
It was a great pass, Frederick said. I actually thought he was going to shoot and all-of-a-sudden it was coming right to my blade. I just redirected it over his shoulder. It was pretty much right there, I just had to open my blade a little bit just to lift it. It was a great pass.
Neither team scored in the third period, but Clarksons defense stifled the Tigers, holding them to only four shots.
I thought we played real well, the guys played hard, Princeton coach Bob Prier said. I thought it was a great game, give both teams credit. Both teams had kids on them that were battling really hard and competing their lives off there. Our guys have been through a lot of adversity, and I think it helped us a lot. Clarkson, just at the end of the day, they ended up winning the majority of the stick battles and it paid off for them in the end.
When the game ended, Clarkson players celebrated winning their first postseason series in their college careers.
Weve been working hard for four years and finally hard work has paid off for us, Clarkson captain Ben Sexton said. My last kick at the can here at home, its something Im going to remember forever. I thought we stuck to our process. We believed in what our game plan was going to be. We stuck with it and saw the rewards for that our will to win tonight was very noticeable.
Said McPherson, It was our last game and a little emotional, but at the same time, we wanted to keep winning. Its great for the program. Its been a couple of years since the program was in the second round and that was one of our goals and we accomplished it.