WATERTOWN, Mass. — There’s something about playoff time that brings out the best in the Canisius Golden Griffins.
They found themselves trailing, 2-1, after the first period, but again mounted a rally, thanks to the first career hat trick by junior Mitch McCrank.
McCrank scored the game-winner at 8:52 of the third and the Griffs defended well in the closing minutes to earn a 3-2 win over Bentley in front of 673 at John A. Ryan Skating Rink on Sunday.
The win advances Canisius (16-20-3) to the conference semifinals and a matchup with top-seeded Mercyhurst at Blue Cross Arena in Rochester on Friday. The game will be a rematch of last year’s championship game.
But to get there, the Griffs had to battle adversity.
It was a knockdown, drag-out, flair-for-the-dramatic playoff series. Bentley took Game One, scoring with the extra attack with 23 seconds left to send the game into overtime. The Falcons got the game-winner just 40 seconds into the extra period.
In Game Two, Canisius scored three third-period goals to force overtime, with Kyle Gibbons scoring in the second OT to give the Griffs the win and force Sunday’s decisive Game Three.
Bentley took leads of 1-0 and 2-1 but it was McCrank playing with Shane Conacher and Ralph Cuddemi who led the offensive breakout.
“Coming off a loss in the first game, then winning in double overtime in the second game, I don’t know, we just found it in ourselves,” McCrank said.
“We put our passion in it. That was our theme for this series. We put our passion in the center of the room and just got ’er done.”
While McCrank had been on the doorstep throughout this series, he was an unlikely candidate to net the second hat trick of the postseason for the Griffs. The junior had just four goals in his first 35 games this season.
After Bentley took the 1-0 lead, McCrank answered 50 seconds later to tie the game. The Falcons got a late goal in the first but McCrank cashed in on the power play to tie the game at 3:59 of the second.
He scored the game-winner at 8:52 of the third.
“It was a nice play by my line,” McCrank said.
“Shane Conacher chipped it off the boards. I saw Ralph got it and I knew I could beat my guy up the ice so I went hard to the net and Ralph sauced it over to me.
“I think I just got it as it hit the ice and it managed to go five-hole.”
Bentley applied pressure and the top line of Brett Switzer, Alex Grieve and Brett Gensler kept coming in waves.
The Griffs defense played well and senior goaltender Tony Capobianco put in a stellar performance, finishing with 38 saves and fending off 1:05 of the extra attacker at the end of the game.
“Our guys did a great job late in the game, laying out, blocking shots, taking big hits and just trying their best to get in the lane and get sticks on the puck,” Capobianco said.
“I was trying my best to just slow the game down and take some rebounds and cover them. ... The key thing was just getting the puck out of our zone as quick as possible and making sure we got it past their D-men who were pinching in.”
Senior Branden Komm of Williamsville finished his Bentley career with the loss, making 29 saves as the Falcons ended the season 19-14-6.