RIDGEFIELD -- Forced to kill off several penalties while holding a one-goal lead, the Ridgefield High School boys hockey team left the door open for Greenwich to make its move during the second period of Wednesday's state tournament game.
Instead, the Tigers opened their lead during the decisive period and moved on to the next round.
Despite spending plenty of time in the penalty box in the second period, fifth-seeded Ridgefield scored two unanswered goals to claim a three-goal lead and cruised to a 6-1 victory over 12th-seeded Greenwich in the first round of the CIAC Division I Tournament before a big crowd at Winter Garden Ice Arena.
The two-time defending FCIAC champion Tigers (19-5) advanced to Saturday's quarterfinals where they will face either Xavier or West Haven.
Ridgefield showed its depth offensively, receiving goals from six different players.
"It feels great to be moving on to the next round," said Tigers sophomore forward Liam Smith, who had one goal and one assist. "It was tough to come back from winning the FCIAC title and play here tonight with the same emotion. But our team really came together tonight and played well."
Greenwich ended its season at 12-10, a huge improvement from last year when it won only three games.
"You look at the score 6-1 and it sounds like we were handily defeated," Cardinals coach Bob Russel said. "But I thought we played one of our better games of the year. We created a lot of chances, but they finished on a lot of their good chances and we were a shade off. Finishing your chances comes with maturity."
Trailing 2-1, Greenwich went on the power play three times in the second period and twice had a 5-on-3 advantage. The Cardinals came close, but couldn't score the equalizer, as Tigers senior goalie Dustin Rausa (25 saves) came up big.
Pressuring the puck in the Tigers' zone, Greenwich had several opportunities, with Brian Silard, Tommy Rogan and Decker Curran putting shots on net. Rausa, however, kept it a one-goal game.
"Our goalie played great," Smith said. "He really fueled our team to victory."
The Tigers seized a 3-1 lead 8:58 into the second period on Smith's shorthanded goal. Receiving a cross ice pass from junior forward Cameron McGuire, Smith put a one-timer past GHS sophomore goalie Bryan Archino (36 saves).
"They were on the power play a lot that period and we were trying to kill off those penalties, so getting that goal got us even more excited for the game and put the momentum on our side," said McGuire, who was the MVP in the team's FCIAC championship win against St. Joseph. "We came into the game knowing they were going to go all out tonight and luckily the puck went into the net for us."
With 12 seconds remaining in the second period, senior Vincent Rella set junior Jack Tregurtha up for a one-timer, putting Ridgefield ahead, 4-1.
The Cardinals, who were outshot 46-32 for the game, held an 18-14 shots on goal advantage in the second period.
"We had 18 shots in the second period and had 26 after two periods, but only had one goal, which was frustrating," Greenwich senior defenseman William Waesche said. "Their goalie was awesome tonight. You really have to give it to him."
Said Russel: "The backbreaker for us was that shorthanded goal, which made it 3-1. That changed the nature of the game. Then they scored the fourth goal with 12 seconds left, which made it even tougher. If you told me we would generate 32 shots against them I'd say we played a great game."
Ridgefield took a 1-0 edge 12:05 into the first period. Rella found open ice, skated down the left wing and went top shelf with a snap shot from the left faceoff circle. The Tigers padded their lead just 35 seconds later. With the home team on the power play, senior forward Christopher Morrow tallied off a tip-in off a shot from Alex Rowella, making it a 2-0 game with 3:21 remaining in the opening period.
"We had a tough time with them because they are really good on the boards," GHS senior center Paul Macken said. "That's where they killed us tonight. But this season was still a great experience for us."
The Cards capitalized on their first power play chance with just over a minute left in the first period. Curran's wrist shot from close in off a feed from Matt Lodato cut the Tigers' lead to 2-1.
"We came in here today off winning the FCIAC title, now winning the state championship is our No. 1 goal," McGuire said. "We're going to work hard to reach that goal."
Greenwich, meanwhile, left the game knowing they put itself back on the map after struggling last year.
"We didn't get as far as we wanted to, but compared to last year, this was a big improvement," Waesche said. "Our ability to play well from start to finish each game was impressive."
GREENWICH 1 0 0 - 1
RIDGEFIELD 2 2 2 - 6
Goals: G - Decker Curran; R - Vincent Rella, Christopher Morrow, Liam Smith, Jack Tregurtha, Andrew DeLalla, Samuel Sarath; Assists: G - Matt Lodato, Alex Bastone; R - Rella 2, Alex Rowella 2, Cameron McGuire, Morrow. Goalies: G - Bryan Archino (36 saves); R - Dustin Rausa (25 saves).
Records: Ridgefield 19-5; Greenwich 12-10.