PITTSBURGH -- The three losses to Quinnipiac during the season didn't mean anything to Yale and its players. After getting into the NCAA tournament on the final day thanks to a loss by Michigan, the Bulldogs were given a clean slate, a new life. They took advantage of that opportunity and picked off the country's top teams one-by-one, capping a remarkable season with their first national championship by blanking top-ranked Quinnipiac on Saturday night, 4-0.
Quinnipiac goaltender and Hobey Baker Award finalist Eric Hartzell was great all season, which is why Yale grabbing the lead early was vital. The Bulldogs killed off a second period 5-on-3 while the game was still scoreless, giving them momentum leading to the game's opening goal.
Given the way he's dominated play of late, it would take a fortunate bounce to beat Hartzell, and that's what happened when Clint Bourbonais deflected Gus Young's shot from the point with 3.5 seconds left in the second period to give the Bulldogs a 1-0 lead.
A lead they would not relinquish.
“It was just a fluky goal," said Hartzell. "That’s what happens when you get pucks to the net, weird bounces happen. Only bad things can happen when you throw it on net, good things in [Yale’s] case.”
Quinnipiac were no strangers to making comebacks. Down 3-1 to Canisius in the opening round of the tournament, they scored three unanswered goals in the third period to move on to the regional final. But on Saturday, there would be no comeback.
Once Yale grabbed the lead, they ran with it and didn't allow Quinnipiac to get comfortable in their game plan. Goals by Charles Orzetti and captain Andrew Miller in the opening ten minutes of the third period were more than enough of a cushion before an empty-netter by Pittsburgh's own Jesse Root's made it 4-0 and started the celebrations in Hamden, Ct.
In goal, birthday boy Jeff Malcolm continued his stellar play by making 36 saves.
Quinnipiac had outscored Yale 13-3 in their previous three meetings, but Bobcats head coach Rand Pecknold was aware that they would not be facing the same team they shutout in late March. The Bulldogs focused on putting bodies in front of shots and upping the pressure on the Bobcats' defense.
"They hadn't seen our 'A' game in the previous three games," said Yale head coach Keith Allain. "They saw the result, but I don't think they knew what we had become as a hockey team and I thought that we could surprise them a little bit."
Yale will graduate six seniors and the constant theme this week was crediting the team entirely, not any one individual.
"We have some great players on our team and a lot of the guys that don't get noticed, they're our heroes," said Miller, who was also named the tournament's most outstanding player. "We don't focus on one player or one group of players. We compete every single night and I think that's a testament to our team."
"This senior class has been amazing," said Allain. "The reason why we won this championship tonight was because of the leadership of that group."
Three No. 1 seeds and a No. 2 seed fell as Yale made their way to a national title. They weren't heralded along the way, having to get by top-ranked teams like Minnesota, North Dakota and UMass Lowell before vanquishing No. 1 overall seed Quinnipiac. And on their way, the Bulldogs didn't allow a chip on their shoulder to form.
Instead, they stuck with their approach and were rewarded for it.
Follow Sean Leahy on Twitter at @Sean_Leahy