There were playoff implications on the line around the Atlantic Hockey Association Saturday night. Robert Morris and Air Force, tied for fourth place, were angling for the final bye into the second round of the conference tournament.
The Colonials, facing off against first-place Mercyhurst at 84 Lumber Arena, needed only to match the Falcons' result against Niagara to earn the coveted bye. And when Connecticut lost earlier in the night, it left the door open for Robert Morris to vault into third place with a victory.
But after two periods, Mercyhurst and Air Force held 3-1 leads, and it was desperation time for the Colonials. They drew back within one midway through the third period when junior winger Cody Wydo scored his 23rd goal of the season, setting the program's single-season record.
But in the end, the Lakers (18-12-7, 16-4-6) spoiled the Colonials' plans with a 5-2 win, which, coupled with the Falcons' 4-1 victory at Niagara, dropped Robert Morris (13-15-5, 13-8-5) back to fifth.
The Colonials will host Army (5-25, 5-21) in the first round of the Atlantic Hockey tournament next weekend.
"We've got to let this sting a little bit," Robert Morris coach Derek Schooley said. "It's a disappointment. But come Monday, we've got to be ready to go to prepare for the Black Knights."
The Colonials shelled Lakers goaltender Jordan Tibbett with 50 shots, including 24 in the third period, but only snuck two pucks past him.
"I don't think we left anything on the table," Schooley said. "But when you let up easy goals, that hurts."
Robert Morris and Mercyhurst skated to 5-5 draws in their two previous games, but opened Saturday with a scoreless first period before the Lakers exploded for three second-period goals.
Mercyhurst winger Kyle Just opened the scoring at the 13:43 mark of the second period when he broke in alone and buried a short-handed goal behind Colonials goalie Terry Shafer.
Mercyhurst center Daniel O'Donoghue added another goal, this one on the power play, 94 seconds later.
Robert Morris senior forward Colin South got the Colonials on the board by roofing a shot over Tibbett's shoulder with seven minutes left in the period. But O'Donoghue scored his second tally of the period two minutes later to push the Mercyhurst lead to 3-1.
Wydo pulled the Colonials back within one halfway through the third period with his second goal of the series, but the Lakers slammed the door shut with an insurance goal with 3:22 left in the game and another with 3.3 seconds left.
In total, Mercyhurst scored two power-play goals and a short-handed tally.
"If you make mistakes, they'll capitalize on them," South said. "That's what they do so well."
The defeat marked the Colonials' first winless series since a sweep at the hands of Bentley Dec. 6-7. After starting 2-12-2, Robert Morris went 11-4-3 in the final two months of the season.
Before the game, the Colonials tipped their caps to their six-man senior class, which claimed a program-record 68 victories in their four seasons at Robert Morris.
"Right after Christmas break, it seemed we were just so far out of it that I wasn't sure we'd be able to make a run at it," said South, the team's captain. "But we did."
Stephen J. Nesbitt: firstname.lastname@example.org, 412-290-2183 and Twitter @stephenjnesbitt.