Niagara struck for two even-strength goals in a span of 11 seconds in the second period Saturday night and held on behind another stellar performance by goalie Brian Wilson for a 5-4 victory over Air Force. The victory moved the Purple Eagles to the Atlantic Hockey Association playoff semifinals starting Friday at Harborcenter.
The Purple Eagles clinched the best-of-three series, 2-0 with the victory after winning the opener in overtime on Friday night, 3-2, behind 36 saves by Wilson.
Saturday night, Wilson was even more brilliant. The sophomore from Pickering, Ont., made 18 saves in the second period when Niagara was outshot, 19-2. In the third, he made another 14 stops at Niagara was outshot, 15-3. In addition, Wilson’s teammates blocked 23 shots in the game.
Despite the wide margin in play in the second period, the Purple Eagles were able to snap a 3-3 tie on goals by Kris Spriggs at 16:47 and Nick Farmer at 16:58.
Tyler Hayes scored his first goal of the season to give Niagara the first lead at 4:42 of the opening period. Air Force struck back for a 2-1 lead on goals by Matt Pulver and Walker Sommer. Niagara took back the lead before the first was over. Chris Harpur tied it with his second of the season at 16:26. Then skating 5 on 3 after the second of two interference penalties against Air Force, Noah Delmas needed only 6 seconds to find the net with Ludwig Stenlund getting the assist.
A power-play goal by Kieran Durgan tied it for Air Force at 8:53 of the second before goals by Spriggs and Farmer put Niagara back in front.
RIT also had clinched a semifinal berth with its 3-1 win over Sacred Heart on Friday to win that series, 2-1.
The Army at AIC and Robert Morris at Bentley quarterfinals series are even at 1-1 and will be decided by games Sunday.
Niagara (16-18-5) was the No. 6 seed. No. 3 Air Force (16-15-5) was attempting to win its third Atlantic Hockey playoff championship in a row. Last season, as the No. 9 seed, Niagara was eliminated by No. 8 AIC.