Bobcats roll through Princeton, head to first-ever ECAC semifinals

By on February 26, 2011

When the Quinnipiac women’s ice hockey team came into Hobey Baker Rink to play Princeton Friday afternoon, they had never beaten the Tigers on the road, and they had never earned a trip to the ECAC semifinals. When they left 24 hours later, they had accomplished both.

Victoria Vigilanti stopped all 18 shots sent her way, including a pair of dazzling saves in the final minutes, as the Bobcats swept the Tigers in the best-of-three series with a 2-0 win. Kelly Babstock scored the eventual game-winner and Erica Uden Johansson put home an empty net goal with 16 seconds left to seal the deal.

This time last year was a completely different story for the Bobcats. After a game one win in the quarterfinals against RPI in Hamden, Quinnipiac fell in games two and three to lose the series in heartbreaking fashion.

“None of us wanted to have that feeling again of losing when we should be winning the series,” Vigilanti said. “We tried to give that feeling to the freshmen and they went on to play one of the best playoff series I could imagine.”

Just like in Friday’s contest, the first period ended without a goal from either side, but with the Bobcats controlling the majority of play. They won battles for loose pucks in the Tigers’ zone while blocking shots at the other end of the ice.

“Our defense played unbelievable. I couldn’t ask for anything else,” Vigilanti said. “They were blocking shots with their necks, backs, sticks, anything. That’s desperation playoff hockey.”

With the game still scoreless early in the second period, Kelly Babstock won a faceoff in the Princeton zone. The puck came to the right point to Felicia Vieweg, who settled it and fired a slapshot toward Princeton goalie Rachel Weber. Babstock got her stick out in front of the crease, and deflected it past Weber to give the Bobcats the lead.

Babstock scored 29 times in the regular season and earned her second point of the series with the second-period goal. She was also named as one of three finalists for the ECAC Player of the Year over the weekend.

Leading through two periods, Quinnipiac did not let up their pressure on the forecheck. They continued to send all their forwards deep into the zone, winning pucks behind the Princeton net throughout the third.

“I think we wore them down, that was the game plan,” Quinnipiac head coach Rick Seeley said. “They really ran out of gas towards the second half of the game.”

Princeton was able to mount some offense in the final period, but after hitting three posts in game one of the series, they were denied once again after Denna Laing rang one off the iron. With their season hanging in the balance, the Tigers had two of their best chances all game. But Vigilanti robbed Sally Butler’s deflection with a sparkling glove save, and just two minutes later went into the splits to stop a rebound with her right pad.

“I had already counted those both as goals in my head,” Seeley said. “But that’s Vig, she’s capable of making huge saves, and she’s capable of being steady like she was today.”

“That’s my job,” Vigilanti added. “I have to be on my toes and make the big saves to keep my team in the game.”

The win ensures the Bobcats of at least one more game this season. They will be playing on the road against either Cornell or Harvard on Thursday, with a win sending them to the ECAC Championship game.

“Cornell is just a powerhouse, we’ll have to make some adjustments against them,” Seeley said. “I think we match up well against Harvard. We had them 2-0 in the third at their place last time, but we just kind of fell apart.”

Vigilanti is even more confident in the team’s ability to make noise in the upcoming games.

“If we just play our game, we can beat anyone,” the sopohomore said. “Put us out there against an NHL team and we’ll win.”

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