In which we recap the day’s events in the NCAA tournament.
PROVIDENCE — Safe to say Merrick Madsen has been on a hot streak for a bit.
Coming into the NCAA tournament, he had a .932 save percentage across his previous 16 games, more or less in line with his career average, and it’s a true indicator of his quality.
He has always been difficult to beat, and against a team like Providence — fourth in the nation in shots on goal but only 22nd in actual scoring — it seemed likely that he’d be busy but perhaps not all that threatened.
So it came to pass: Madsen, a Flyers draft pick, stood tall as Providence pumped 41 shots on goal. Harvard was often scrambling to contain the Friar possession game, which was strong as always, but Madsen had it under control. What was there to be worried about?
The Crimson cruised to a 3-0 win. The game was edgy at times, especially early on, but ultimately this was the only logical result.
Sure, Providence put together a scramble of high-quality chances early in the first period, collapsing the Harvard defense within about three feet of the crease. The Friars got off seven or eight shot attempts, all of which were either saved or blocked (some of them borderline-miraculous). It was a strong showing from PC coach Nate Leaman’s crew, and you can say Harvard was a little lucky, but great goalies make their own luck.
“They had that big first flurry at the start of the first period and I thought that kind of got me into the game a lot easier than it would have been if I hadn’t gotten any shots,” Madsen said. “Obviously we don’t want to be giving up a ton of chances like that early on but I think as a team we calibrated and took it to them through the rest of the period and took it to them the rest of the game. “
Madsen stood tall there, and it was one of the few true tests he actually faced even as Providence carried play. The rest of the game, he mostly got clean looks, mostly tracked the puck well, mostly had a certain air of, “He’s probably not gonna give up a goal here today.”
“I think it starts with the goaltender, he made some big saves at key times,” said Harvard coach Ted Donato. “Tonight was just making sure we didn’t give up anything outnumbered and just trying to stay out of the box.”
You’re going to hear that he stood on his head — and I guess if you want to say “He made 40-plus saves,” that’s true — but there was an air of inevitability about it; it felt as though there was no way Providence was going to break through. Madsen was solid and made a few high-level saves, as is his wont. That’s all that was asked of him and he was up to the task.
That is, one supposes, the value of having an elite goalie who has been elite more or less for his entire career. You know that if things go right, you’re not going to have to worry about too much at the back. Providence caused more headaches than Donato might have liked, but they rode it all out.
“Tonight the only thing we didn’t do was finish,” Leaman said. “I thought we got great changes, we go second chances, we got whacks at it, we had one called back, we had  shots. It wasn’t like the generation of offense wasn’t there.”
The good news for the Crimson — and for Madsen — was that you could count the number of odd-man rushes they allowed on only part of one hand. And some of those got broken up by defenders. As is so often the case with great goalies, the defense in front of them does a lot of cleanup work before anything even gets to his desk. That a good chunk of Providence’s attempts down the stretch were from the outside tells a bit of a story.
“Going in 2-0, we talked about playing on our toes, not our heels and trying to win the period so that one bounce or one call didn’t go against us and change the game,” Donato said. “I give Providence a lot of credit. I think they kept coming and did a lot of good things.”
At the other end of the ice, Harvard kept Montreal draft pick Hayden Hawkey (26 saves in the game) busy enough, but really only got remotely as close to the net as Providence’s first big push a handful of times. It was a strange role reversal, to be sure: Harvard is the high-flying offense that’s pummeled opponents for 3.8 goals per game since mid-January. Providence is the defensive, systems-y stalwart that never gives up many chances.
But when you get a bit of luck, as Harvard did on the first goal, and get a bit of skill, as it did on the second, that’s a combination that’s going to have other teams counting the lights when your goalie is this reliable.
Tyler Moy scored on a bad-angle goal late in a power play that spanned the first intermission to put Harvard up 1-0, but even then there had to be belief that the Friars could come back. They were playing well, pushing the pace of the game and getting some good looks, but they certainly weren’t converting on them. The power play was moving the puck around acceptably but not really gaining a lot of traction, and certainly not getting looks good enough to threaten Madsen.
Adam Fox added to the lead late in the second, walking to the front of the net and putting the puck on his backhand. He lifted it over Hawkey and made the game academic. There was still more than 22 minutes to play, but that hill to climb quickly grew into a mountain.
It proved unscalable.
(It’s worth noting here that Providence seemed to score a first-period goal about two seconds after a whistle for offside, and they perhaps felt a little aggrieved by it. But it came so long after the whistle that Harvard kinda quit playing. And by the way, the play was onside, but that’s hockey.)
The closest Providence, already down 2-0, came was another goalmouth scramble on which Madsen was absolutely down and out. The puck fell to Scott Conway, and he put it off the post. That kind of day for the Friars, that kind of day for Madsen.
“I think at the end of the day we did get a few bounces and I can be thankful that [shot off the right post] bounced across and didn’t go in the net,” Madsen said. “[I tried] to take away as much of the net as I could, but I felt like we had something on our side and I think it made it easier for everyone. For me, just knowing you’re getting some bounces and just try to stay focused and feel like you’re in the zone is where I got into.”
The Crimson are now 22-0 this season when entering the third period with a lead. So the fact that Providence, a team with clear offensive capabilities but only so-so finish, couldn’t get back into the game shouldn’t have been much of a surprise.
Not against a team this good, with a goalie this great.
BU 4, North Dakota 3 (2OT)
This was a wild-ass game. BU led 3-1 with eight minutes to go in the third, and blew it.
Then North Dakota scored in overtime and, after a lengthy review, it was determined the play was offside. So off they went to the second overtime. Charlie McAvoy scored at 11:48 of the fifth period to put the game away.
But even then, even as dramatic as all that sounds, it kind of doesn’t tell the story. The list of crazy things goes on for a bit: North Dakota outshot BU, 59-29. Kieffer Bellows got checked through the glass. There were four power plays in the OTs. BU didn’t even get a shot on goal in the first overtime.
To that end, the fact that North Dakota had more goals overturned in that period than the Terriers put on net from anywhere on the ice. That’s not a statistic you see often in this tournament.
Then BU had a goal waved off immediately even though it was apparently across the line. Then they scored the acatual game-winner shortly thereafter.
McAvoy finished with the game-winner and an assist. Clayton Keller had a wonderful primary assist on the game-winner and another besides. Jake Oettinger stopped 56 of 59!
Was BU lucky to survive here? You bet they were. No question about it. Giving up 59 shots in what is effectively a home game for your opponent isn’t a recipe for success by any stretch. They blocked 51(!) attempts.
Final shot attempts in all situations: BU had 67. North Dakota had 145. Folks, that’s a big difference.
BU is an extremely talented team, though, so having the ability to pull one out? Yeah that’s up their sleeve too.
But maybe you bring a little more to the table than you did tonight. Just a suggestion.
Air Force 5, Western Michigan 4
Another wild one here.
For a little while in the first period, Air Force seemed content to counterpunch, which you’d expect against a huge team that plays a capital-H-capital-G Heavy Game.
Absorb some shots, try not to let them be too high-quality, and maybe get a few chances the other way. The Falcons converted early, scoring just 56 seconds into the game, then doubling the lead a little more than 10 minutes later.
After that, Air Force really came alive, totally carrying play, drawing penalties, and so on. Then they ran away with it. Shots in the second period were 17-5 for the team from the weaker conference. Meanwhile, the team that spent much of the season grinding down some of the best teams in the country wasn’t doing anything like that.
Things got a little livelier in the third, with the teams trading goals and Western cutting the lead to 4-3 through goals 23 seconds apart. Then about 90 seconds later, Air Force struck again. Western added a late one with the extra attacker, but it wasn’t enough.
This result was a stunner. More fun than it had any right to be.
Minnesota-Duluth 3, Ohio State 2 (OT)
Duluth was 16-0-2 when leading after two periods this season because they are extremely good and most teams that are extremely good hold leads over the last 20 minutes. But when you throw it into neutral? Well…
The Bulldogs had a two-goal second period and looked ready to roll. Then they kinda threw it in neutral against one of the most impressive offenses in the country. So the Buckeyes closed out that lead on goals 5:31 apart from Matt Joyaux and Gordi Myer.
But in the end, Williie Raskob bumped it to 17-0-2, scoring with a shade under nine minutes to go in the first OT. That also kept the NCHC from totally embarrassing itself in the first day of the tournament, though lord knows they tried.
Hunter Miska stopped 40 of 42, including some borderline-larceny stops, to pick up the W and live another day.
1 – Jake Oettinger, BU
Fifty-nine shots, only three goals against. Not all of them are going to be of a high quality but damn that’s a lot of saves to make, especially for a kid who’s barely 18. The reason BU won boils down to Oettinger, who delivered a strong game just a week after one of his worse performances of the season in the Hockey East semifinals.
Everyone involved better hope he doesn’t have to do it again.
2 – Kyle Haak, Air Force
Haak scored a shorthanded goal to put the Falcons up 2-0 midway through the first. Then after Western got one back, he scored again at 5-on-5 to restore that two-goal lead. Five shots in the game, great two-way performance. If this wasn’t the game of his life, it had to have been pretty damn close.
3 – Merrick Madsen, Harvard
See above. He made 41 saves in a 3-0 win. That’s what you’re looking for.