Air Force goaltender Shane Starrett led the charge out of the tunnel for the first warm-ups of the postseason, tripped and hit the ice hard as his teammates cackled behind him. He rolled over, shook it off and headed for the crease.
It was the biggest defensive gaffe of the night.
Starrett made 18 saves and Phil Boje had three points (one goal, two assists) as Air Force won the opener of its Atlantic Hockey Conference tournament quarterfinal series 4-0.
Air Force was coming off its 10th first-round bye in 11 years, and Bentley needed double overtime in its tiebreaking third game to finish off Sacred Heart last weekend. A good penalty kill midway through the first period helped the host Falcons (23-9-5, 20-6-3 AHC) shake off the cobwebs.
"They were in game shape," Boje said. "We came out after two weeks off and came out a little flat, but we got it going in the second and third period."
No one seemed to know where the puck was during a long scramble in front of the net with 5 minutes left in first period, with Starrett flipping around trying to find it. The whistle blew, and the sophomore tossed the puck out of his glove.
Boje wound up and fired the puck from the top of the circle through traffic past Bentley goaltender Jayson Argue 3:12 into the second period. Boje has points in nine of his past 11 games and is two out of the AHC defensive scoring lead.
"We had a great screen in net and it just happened to get through," Boje said.
About a minute later, Argue bobbled a shot, and Jordan Himley fell onto him, knocking both into the net. Officials called the goal back.
Evan Feno reinstated the 2-0 lead when he corralled the puck near the boards and wristed a shot past Argue 8:26 into the period.
Thirty-five seconds later, Dan Bailey took a pass from Feno at the blue line and his long shot went in. That ended Argue's night.
From there, the Falcons had to weather A.J. Reid's five-minute boarding major and continue to frustrate Bentley (13-18-7, 10-13-6) in order to secure Starrett's fourth shutout of the season.
"Our penalty killing was good. It had to be. But we can play better, and we need to play better," coach Frank Serratore said. "I'm pleased we won, but they're a good opponent, and they gave us some trouble with their forecheck pressure."
Matt Koch scored an empty-netter from well behind his own blue line for the final score.
Air Force can advance to the semifinals with a win tomorrow night.
"We're going to come out real hard and keep putting pucks on net, keep playing good defense, breaking pucks out clean and we'll be in good shape," Boje said.
Serratore's outlook was harsher.
"They're a good team, and we're going to need to play better to win tomorrow," he said.