It’s all about the little things after you score a goal.
For the Canisius Golden Griffins, a few seconds of relaxed play in the closing minutes led to the loss of another lead.
With three goals in the final three minutes, Mercyhurst secured its spot at the top of Atlantic Hockey with a 3-1 win over the Griffs in front of 833 at the Buffalo State Ice Arena on Thursday night.
After a scoreless goaltending duel for 56 minutes, Canisius had found its way on the scoreboard with a power-play goal from senior Kyle Gibbons.
But just 32 seconds later, Mercyhurst tied the game as Matthew Zay’s blast from inside the blue line made it past a screened Tony Capobianco.
“If you could go back in time and say after we scored, the next battle in the corner is going to determine the game, would you do it differently? I think the answer is yes,” Canisius coach Dave Smith said. “We need to play with the same urgency with a one-goal lead that we played with when it was 0-0. We sat back and gave a very good team space for five seconds. They shot it, got a little bit of momentum, we lost a battle and it ends up in the back of our net.
“It hurts because that’s the best 55 minutes we’ve played in a long, long time. We’ve got to move on. There’s no explanation that’s going to make anyone feel better or explain the game. They’re going to see 3-1 on the scoreboard and not know that it was a wonderful game and that we just took a couple of breaks and it ended up in the back of our net.”
Gibbons broke the scoreless tie with 3:23 left in regulation. Alone in front of the net, he took a beautiful feed from Ralph Cuddemi and fired it past Jimmy Sarjeant.
But the Lakers came storming back on their next shift.
Then with just 57 seconds left in the game, Daniel Bahntge went to the front of Capobianco, took a center pass from Daniel O’Donoghue, who was behind the net, and fired it for a 2-1 Lakers lead.
With Capobianco pulled for the extra attacker, Ryan Misiak scored to seal the win for the Lakers, who improved to 12-1-3 and sit in first place in Atlantic Hockey.
“For us it seems to be a recurring theme. We get up a goal late and we squander a lead,” said Gibbons, who now has 10 goals on the season. “We’ve got to find a way in our locker room and the guys who are playing to fix this and close it out.
“That’s a game we should win. Period. There’s nothing else you need to say. That’s a game we should have won.”
Capobianco played a solid, confident game, recording 37 saves on 39 shots as Canisius dropped to 7-8-2 in Atlantic Hockey.
It was a scoreless first period and Mercyhurst held a 12-7 advantage in shots. More importantly, they carried the bulk of play, generating prolonged offensive zone time and an aggressive forecheck which led to several quality scoring opportunities.
Capobianco made several key stops to keep the game scoreless.
Jimmy Sarjeant made a few big saves, but most of the Griffs’ shots were easily seen without screens. And Sarjeant didn’t give up any rebounds.
The Griffs were more aggressive in the second period, getting bodies in front of the net and doing a better job of cycling the puck. They had several quality scoring chances and held an 18-11 advantage in shots – the most shots generated by the Griffs in a period this season.
The penalty kill again came up big in the period as the Griffs killed off a late penalty to Carl Larsson for high sticking. A solid defense kept the Lakers outside for most of the two minutes with no shots against Capobianco.
Merychurst was the aggressor to start the third, putting pressure on the Griffs and drawing an early power play. Once again, the Griffs were solid on the penalty kill and Capobianco came up with another round of saves.
The Griffs had their own power-play woes, unable to set up in the Mercyhurst zone. Cody Freeman drew a penalty to give Canisius the man advantage, but the Griffs got nothing going. In fact, Capobianco had to come up with a big save as O’Donoghue had a shorthanded breakaway attempt midway through the power play.
The two teams finish their regular season series on Saturday when they play in Erie at 7 p.m.