PITTSBURGH -- Heading into the Frozen Four, Yale senior Jeff Malcolm was one of the most unheralded goaltenders in the tournament, overshadowed all season by Quinnipiac rival Eric Hartzell, the ECAC Player of the Year and Goalie of the Year.
On Saturday night, in the game that mattered the most, Malcolm won the day.
"A lot of guys who don't get noticed," said Yale senior forward Andrew Miller, "they're our heroes."
It was quite fitting that college hockey's unlikely national champion found an unlikely hero.
Yale, the last at-large team to sneak into the tournament, beat three No. 1 seeds en route to the program's first national title with a 4-0 win over Quinnipiac. In what was one of the biggest upsets ever in the Frozen Four, Malcolm tied his season high with 36 saves and helped Yale to only the fifth shutout in the tournament's history.
It was arguably one of the best college hockey games of the season, featuring two rivals located less than eight miles apart in central Connecticut, but Yale put significant distance between the two programs when it scored three goals in the final period.
The game overflowed with storylines, from Yale's improbable run through the tournament to Malcolm celebrating his 24th birthday with the game of his life. After losing three times this season to rival Quinnipiac, Yale -- the No. 15 seed in the 16-team tournament -- left no doubt it was talented enough to overcome the stingy defense of the senior-laden Quinnipiac team.
Quinnipiac entered the game with the nation's best defense, allowing just 1.6 goals per game, but on Saturday, Yale scored more goals (4) than it did in the first three games combined against the Bobcats (3).
"The guys do a heck of a job in front of me," Malcolm said. "Our D corps is amazing. Coach has been stressing defense leads to offense, and you saw that tonight."
What began as the longest scoreless national title game since 1998 turned into an offensive outburst by Yale. The Bulldogs showcased their speed and skill while Quinnipiac gave up two goals on five shots to fall behind 2-0.
On paper, Quinnipiac entered the game as the strongest defensive team in the country, but one small defensive lapse with 3.5 seconds left in the second period gave Yale a 1-0 lead and all the momentum heading into the final period. It was as if Quinnipiac thought the play was over, and nobody played the goal while Clinton Bourbonais caught Quinnipiac sleeping.
With 16:25 remaining in the third period, Charles Orzetti got his own rebound and scored from what looked like an impossible angle to give Yale a 2-0 edge. Miller, one of the best players in the country and the Most Outstanding Player of the tournament, scored the third goal at the 9:06 mark and put Quinnipiac into panic mode, forcing the Bobcats to take some chances.
"We're devastated," said Quinnipiac coach Rand Pecknold. "It was a great year and this wasn't the way it was supposed to end. I think we were the best team in college hockey and for the season and, unfortunately, we didn't prove it tonight."
Both teams went hard to the net in what was a physical game. Both teams had a 5-on-3 opportunity, as both goalies were run through, but neither team was able to score.
With about 14:20 left in the second period, Malcolm came up with a monumental save and deflected a point-blank shot by Quinnipiac forward Jordan Samuels-Thomas.
Blue-clad Yale fans chanted "Mal-colm! Mal-colm!" and then they sang Happy Birthday to him.
"Malcolm was great," said Pecknold. "He was the best player on the ice and he won that game for them. That's the best game I've ever seen him play. It was the biggest game of his career and he pitched a shutout."
Malcolm's teammates agreed.
"Jeff played great all night," said Colin Dueck. "You could tell right from the start, he was feeling it. He was getting shots, and he was seeing them and moving well. In the second period, he made a pretty good short breakaway stop and I knew at that point he's just closing the door. Playing in front of him, I mean, that's huge for us because we're confident. We're just trying to get in the shot lanes. We're playing the guy and not worrying about if shots do get by because he's going to be there. I think it was solid defense and, obviously, he was really solid in that. So that was huge."
So was the significance of the win.
The ECAC, usually overshadowed by the mighty Hockey East conference, made a statement with its first national champion since Harvard in 1989. Yale finished the season with 22 wins, the fewest for a national champion since Minnesota in 1974.
It was a game of missed opportunities for Quinnipiac, which seemed to have all of the pieces in place for its first national title.
The one thing it didn't have, though, was the better goalie -- at least not Saturday night.