LEWISTON – Some days it comes down to putting your head down, getting some puck luck and finishing the play.
Ryan Murphy skated hard down the ice, got behind the Canisius defense, which anticipated an icing call, and found himself alone in front goaltender Tony Capobianco.
Murphy went to the backhand and beat Capobianco high to break a scoreless tie with 4:24 left in the third period and put No. 15 Niagara on track for a 2-0 win over Canisius in front of a sold-out crowd of 1,559 at Dwyer Arena on Saturday night.
Niagara defender Jason Beattie cleared the puck from his zone off the boards. It looked as if the play would result in an icing, but the puck hit the referee keeping the play alive. That’s when Murphy picked the puck up in the Canisius zone and finished off a scoring opportunity.
“I was reading icing,” Capobianco said. “Once he got the puck, I couldn’t get depth, I tried to poke-check but he was too far away, he got a good shot off inside the post.”
“That’s a play where we play the puck across the [defensive] zone and I’m on the other side,” Murphy said. “I put my head down, skated as fast as I could and the puck was in front of me.”
“It was a lucky bounce for us, but the finish is what we should be talking about," Niagara coach Dave Burkholder said.”
The win gave Niagara a 2-1 advantage in the Atlantic Hockey regular-season series between the teams and was the third tight, low-scoring game between the rivals. Niagara won, 2-1, in November at the Buffalo State Ice Arena, and Canisius evened the season series there, 2-0, on Thursday.
In the clash of the top two defensive teams in Atlantic Hockey, neither was ready to bend.
Canisius entered the weekend with the best scoring defense in the league, and ninth-best nationally, allowing 2.25 goals a game. Niagara was right behind, giving up just 2.27 goals a game. Still, there were great opportunities on both sides.
Niagara (18-5-5, 17-2-2) had a 44-32 advantage in shots on goal. Each team went 0 for 5 on the power play and both goaltenders and defenses made impressive plays.
“From my perspective, both teams had pucks on sticks and the desperation defense was evident on both sides,” Canisius coach Dave Smith said. “There were about 70 shots in that game and both teams had opportunities, good goaltending and good defense. It was an extremely high level of hockey.”
The best opportunity for Canisius was a 5-on-3 advantage for 1:07 at the end of the second period and beginning of the third.
“You want to score in those situations,” Smith said. “They can be game changing. The guys ran what we were trying to run, but the other team is trying as well. We didn’t feel like we lost momentum, though.”
It was an important penalty kill for Niagara, which has killed of 61-of-66 power plays on home ice.
“They way they play defense, if they got a goal there it would be huge," Burkholder said. “But the defense won a couple of key faceoffs, and Chubak was very solid."
Chubak recorded 32 saves in his sixth shutout of the season. Patrick Divjak scored into an empty net with three seconds left for Niagara , which extended its unbeaten streak at Dwyer to 18 games.
Canisius (11-14-5, 10-9-2) remains tied for fourth place in the standings with Holy Cross, which has two games in hand. Both teams have 22 points.
Niagara has a home-and-home with Robert Morris next weekend, playing in Dwyer on Friday and in Pittsburgh on Saturday. Canisius meanwhile travels to Colorado for two games at Air Force.