By DANIEL J. CASSAVAUGH
CANTON — Clarkson pulled away from St. Lawrence in the ECAC Hockey playoff picture with a 2-1 win behind a magnificent performance from goalie Paul Karpowich on Tuesday at Appleton Arena.
Karpowich made 37 saves en route to his 14th win of the season as Clarkson (14-14-2 overall, 8-9-1 ECAC) moved into seventh place in the league standings. St. Lawrence (9-16-5, 5-12-1) fell five points back of eighth-place Quinnipiac for the final home playoff spot.
Karpowich even paused early in the first period after snaring a slapshot from Greg Carey and held his glove in the air as if to alert St. Lawrence he was on his game. Karpowich said the gesture was only to let the official know to blow the play dead.
“There was no whistle. I was waiting for it and waiting for it,” Karpowich said of the play. “I wanted him to know I had it covered, so I held it up.”
Only a game ago, Karpowich lost, 6-3, to Yale. But Clarkson coach George Roll said he was never in doubt of the junior’s ability to bounce back from the bad loss.
“He’s always done that in his career,” Roll said. “He made some unbelievable saves. He’s played very well against (St. Lawrence). That’s kind of what we expect out of him.”
Karpowich fended off a 5-on-3 power play to start the second period when it was just 1-0 Clarkson. He allowed only one score — a power-play goal Nick Pitsikoulis at 17:10 of the second — against the Saints.
At the time, it pulled SLU even with Clarkson and gave Pitsikoulis his fifth point of the month and 13th of the season.
“He played really well tonight,” St. Lawrence coach Joe Marsh said. “He and (Jared) Keller and (Jacob Drewiske) have developed some chemistry. I think that line was probably our best tonight.”
Clarkson, however, took advantage of a crucial St. Lawrence turnover in the defensive zone, and Louke Oakley converted it for the game-winner at 5:12 of the third.
“The next goal was huge,” Oakley said. “It was a close game and you have to bury your chances. Fortunately for us, we did that.”
St. Lawrence still peppered Karpowich with shots in the third period, out-shooting the Golden Knights 13-6. But Karpowich was perfect, and the Saints lost to Clarkson for the third time this year. It’s the first that has happened since the 2001-02 season.
“I think we made (Karpowich) look good, too,” Pitsikoulis said. “We didn’t put a lot of traffic in front. Just losing to Clarkson is always tough.”
Marsh pulled goalie Robby Moss for an extra attacker in the final minute, but the Saints failed to get off a shot. Between the team’s miscommunication and Clarkson’s hounding defense, the Saints looked out of sorts and never seriously threatened to tie in the waning moments.
“You get back on your heals a little bit, and with a goal like (Oakley’s), you start thinking about it,” Marsh said. “I thought we played a good game. Both teams played hard. That’s a big win for them.”
Pitsikoulis wants another shot at the Golden Knights and felt the Saints have a chance to scare some teams in the playoffs next month. Really, though, he wants Clarkson.
“I’d love to get another bid against them,” he said. “I just hope we have another chance against them in the playoffs. I think we’re a much better team than our record shows.”
That future opportunity seems unlikely now that Clarkson has pulled six points ahead of St. Lawrence. The matchup would have to come in a later round, but neither team is concerned with that quite yet.
“More important is gaining confidence,” Roll said. “We went through a tough stretch and now we’ve been able to win two out of our last three going into a tough weekend. It’s important in the standings, but it’s more important to start playing playoff hockey and I thought we did that tonight.”
Ahead for both is Union and Rensselaer, which are first and fifth, respectively, in the conference standings. St. Lawrence will continued to focus on rebounding from another losing streak. The Saints have lost three of its last four with its only win coming 3-2 against No. 2 Yale on Friday. Since then, St. Lawrence lost to Brown, 5-1, and then Clarkson.
“You can’t really dwell on where we’re going to be in the playoffs,” Marsh said. “We’re going to be playing someplace and we feel we can compete. We’ve beaten some pretty good teams this year. We can’t keep beating ourselves and that’s what we have to focus on and what we have to do to be successful and keep our season alive.”